Hello Garden Patrons! This is Terry (Director of Living Collections) filling in for Georgiann while she is away on a well-deserved vacation to let you know what’s blooming in the Garden. 2023 seems to be the year of the Puya as a second species – Puya alpestris (sapphire tower) – is getting ready to bloom in a couple of weeks. Located in the low-water beds between the Desert Garden and Display Greenhouse, Georigann noticed some inflorescences raising out of the wickedly-barbed leaves back on May 8. And my, how those stems have grown so quickly! They looked kind of like odd drumsticks then, but today they have branched.
Why are we so excited by this cousin of the pineapple? It is because of its otherworldly teal-turquoise flowers. True blue is already a rare color in nature, but teal and turquoise are even rarer in flowering plants. This means P. alpestris is in a special group which also includes Strongylodon macrobotrys (jade vine), Ixia viridiflora (turquoise ixia), and Lachenalia viridiflora (turquoise hyacinth).
Another reason why we are so excited by this plant? It doesn’t bloom every year. Since it is native to the high and dry, barren slopes of the Chilean Andes, it is a slow-growing plant and flowers are not an annual guarantee. We are lucky to have flowers two years in a row since it bloomed last year around the same time.
The six developing inflorescences will continue to branch as the flowers start to swell and open. The ends of branches will not produce any flowers, but rather become perches for pollinating birds. Once flowering is complete, the rosette will die, but side ones will continue to grow and then flower years later.
It is theorized that Puya are protocarnivorous – meaning they unintentionally trap prey. Supposedly they “snag” sheep with its viciously-armed leaves and since the entangled sheep cannot get away, they die, and in turn fertilize the plant with its remains. This is not proven and not likely to be true because sheep are not native to South America and did not evolve with Puya. But it does make for a sensational story.
After such a cool and rainy winter, spring is in full tilt in the Garden at the moment. There is so much to see and smell, but do visit the Dorothy and John Bohannon Rose Garden as it is exceptionally lovely right now. That is all from me and I’ll be back next week. Enjoy!
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