Puya: Unearthly Delights in the Garden

Puya Alpestris

The exotic teal blue flowers of Puya Alpestris  contrast w/ the bright orange anthers on this spectacular and rare bloom.
The exotic teal blue flowers of Puya Alpestris contrast w/ the bright orange anthers on this spectacular and rare bloom. | Source

"What on earth is that in the garden?!" It looked so alien! I ran to get my husband, and we both just stood there with our mouths agape staring at a 4' spike of metallic teal blooms with bright orange anthers.

This was before google and mainstream internet, so my research involved the tedious page turning of my Sunset Western Garden Book . Finally, there it was: Puya alpestris, a rare plant, native to the Andean slopes of South America. Here was the proof that it didn't come from another planet!

The bromeliad family:

The puya is a member of the Bromeliacea family of which there are over 3,000 varieties. Some thrive in the world's tropical rainforests where they attach to the bark of trees with their aerial roots. These epiphytes, easily rooted, have been adapted to grow as house plants, including the colorful guzmanias and tillandsias. Distantly related to the pineapple, many are naturally terrestrial and prefer to grow in well-drained soil like the dyckias and puyas which are treated as succulents.

The characteristic reverse barbed leaves:

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Puya Ramondii

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The puyas of So. America:

The largest bromeliad in the world is native to the lower slopes of the Peruvian Andes and Bolivia. Puya ramondii is known as "the Queen of the Andes" reaching 30 feet in height. This unique towering torch of white flowers, rarely seen outside its natural environs, is slow-growing and takes on average, 100 years to produce a flower. This plant is also monocarpic, meaning the whole plant dies after the bloom is spent, leaving only its seeds for posterity. It's no wonder we don't see it in botanical collections throughout the world!

Puya Chilensis

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Puya chilensis , a more practical horticulture specimen for display, grows to 10 feet and has a spectacular spike of yellow to lime green flowers. The huge rosettes of barbed strappy leaves are dangerous to animals and humans alike. This species is often referred to as the "sheep-eating plant" because of its reputation for ensnaring wandering livestock and other unfortunate victims within its spiny clumps. The plant derives mineral rich nutrients from the decomposing flesh and bones as a means of survival.

Puya Beteroniana

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Interesting note:

The non-petaled parts of Puya beteroniana are more silvery gray than that of Puya alpestris. A whitish coating is a natural attribute. The leaf undersides of P. alpestris are silver. The leaf tops and other plant parts are light green.

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Among the candle-type puyas, the best for backyard landscapes in suitable climates, are Puya beteroniana at 6 feet with turquoise flowers and Puya alpestris "sapphire tower" at 4 feet with a deeper teal bloom. These are native to southern Chile and Argentina. Both are considered succulents and are well suited to xeriscape garden designs. Each prefers a well-drained soil and can tolerate hot, dry climates with winter dips to 18 degrees F.

Propagation and care:

These plants can be grown from seeds as well as the off-shoots or "pups" which form at the base. It takes 6-8 years before flower formation. Although drought-tolerant, these plants can handle ample water if the soil drains well. They can grow both in containers or planted directly in the ground; however, I've found greater success in the garden bed. If using a pot, a cactus soil w/ a blend of sand is best. Resistant to most pests and diseases, it is possible to see some scale or mealy bug now and then. The best approach is to respond early by scraping off the scale from the undersides of leaves w/ a fingernail and treating the mealy bug w/ a Q-tip dipped in rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Flower spikes form every 4-5 years. An annual application of a slow release organic fertilizer like calcium-rich bone meal or a pellet-form like Osmocote is the most you'll need.

In landscape designs these blend so well with agaves, aloes, and kniphofias with their beautiful orange spiky blooms. The lovely blue-green fingers of senecio mandraliscae and the bright red-orange pencil-like foliage of euphorbia tirucalli are nice compliments too. The purplish-black rosettes of aeonium and low spreading sedums can add textural interest and contrast. You're only limited by similar growing requirements. Be creative!



In my own garden where this plant existed when we moved in over 20 years ago, it co-exists with bearded irises, succulents, and an asclepias butterfly weed shrub. I'd love to divide it but don't dare in its tight space. Moving this plant is serious business because of its razored edge barbs. I'd suggest heavy cordura nylon gaiters and gauntlet gardening gloves. Snake Armour hunting overalls would be good too if working with a large plant!

Indigenous people used the fibrous leaves for making ropes and nets. The heart of the torch-like flower can purportedly be cut up and eaten with lemon and cilantro. Bees and moths enjoy the pollen-rich anthers, and the hummingbirds rest on the puya's natural perches while collecting nectar from the velvety flowers. I sigh at its beauty when we have a blooming event and once again marvel at nature's ingenuity.

The Dance of the Puya

This past year, my husband and I documented the 5 week blooming process from onset to completion and put it to music. Here is the video:

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Comments 27 comments

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

Cat this was interesting, educational and honestly entertaining hub...thank you


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Wow, what beautiful plants. Amazing blue flowers. I have never seen these before so this was very educational. Thanks for sharing.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

What an awesome looking plant! I can tell it was quite an inspiration for you in creating this great hub!


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

What an awesome plant. Very beautiful and worth the years wait for those pretty flowers.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Cat, you put this hub together in a very nice presentation. The puya blue and orange flower is so lovely and your "Dance of the Puya" video is so fun to watch, the music is perfect for this beautiful flower. Well done on the hub, the video, and all the images you chose.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi Frank and thank you for the nice comments! Glad you found it both informative and entertaining.

My best,

Cat:)


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi Jodah. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and am glad I introduced you to a new plant. The puya would thrive in Australia's semi-arid regions, not so sure about Queensland though. Thank you for stopping by!

Take care,

Cat :)


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Thank you, Rebecca! I really appreciate your kind comments. Good to see you here.

All of the best,

Cat :)


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

FlourishAnyway, Yes, it is well worth the wait and as exciting as seeing it the first time! Until we actually started taking photos of it during the bloom process, we didn't realize it happened over a 5 week period! Thank you for stopping by to read and comment.

My best to you,

Cat :)


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi Phyllis. I'm so happy to hear that all of the components of this hub worked so well together! It was fun to compile it all, and I love to get positive feedback. Thank you for your kind comments and encouragement.

Wishing you a beautiful Spring,

Cat :)


Genna East profile image

Genna East 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

What an amazing plant...the colors and shape of the blooms are breathtaking and stunning. Thank goodness spring is just around the corner.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Good morning, Genna. I'll bet you are more than ready for Spring after all the harsh weather conditions you Easteners have had to endure! I'm glad that you enjoyed this. Teal and turquoise petals are extremely rare in nature. It's always good to see you here! Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

My best to you for a warm and cheerful Spring-

Cat :)


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

Interesting--I was just looking at this plant in someone else's garden the other day and wondering what it was--


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Good morning, Audrey. Sounds like perfect timing! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it. Take care.

Cat:)


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

What an interesting and beautiful hub. Voted up and looking forward to so many more.

Eddy.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hello, Eddy. I'm so glad you liked this and appreciate your kind comments. Spring has come early for us, and is such a glorious time in the garden. I send you best wishes for a lovely Spring also.

My best,

Cat :)


LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 2 years ago from Australia

Hi cat. I'm not sure I'll ever see one for real, but the photos are very impressive. :)


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi LongTimeMother. I'm willing to bet that the puya could grow well in parts of Australia. Thank you for the thoughtful comment- nice to see you!

My best to you-

Cat :)


favored profile image

favored 2 years ago from USA

It was about a year ago that I was introduced to this type of plant. They are so beautiful; I hope that one day I'll be able to have them in my gardens.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hello Fay. Welcome to Hub Pages! Once you see a puya in bloom, they make a lasting impression! I hope that you can grow one in your climate and that my hub helped you learn about its preferences. I appreciate your visit here. Take care!

Cat :)


tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

The blue teal plant is simply stunning. How lucky to have this exotic beauty bloom in your garden. Voted up and awesome, great hub.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Thank you, Jo :) It is always exciting to see it bloom. I appreciate the thoughtful comments and always enjoy seeing you here. Take care!

Cat:)


poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 21 months ago

Beautiful, weird and dangerous!


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 21 months ago from Los Angeles Author

Hello poetryman and thanks for stopping by to read and comment! We're hoping for another bloom in a month or so and are glad it's not the variety that ensnares small animals!


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 17 months ago from the short journey

What a find in your garden. It's stunning! Isn't it amazing what just shows up sometimes? Thanks for sharing your video on the blooming process. It looks like the plant would produce many new seeds before it died. Did they all come up?


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 17 months ago from Los Angeles Author

Thank you, Roberta! We really consider ourselves lucky to have this rare find in our backyard, although we never know when it will bloom. Sometimes it takes years! Although the seeds can be started in a cactus soil, the plants are extremely slow growing and require much patience. Since the leaves are so sharp and dangerous, we have let it sprawl with its many offshoots. Eventually, the mature ones will set a flower spike. Puyas are monocarpic, meaning the plant dies after blooming, so the flowering leaf cluster will never produce again, only the new off shoot.

Perhaps one day I will collect the seeds and plant them. It takes nearly a year before these sprouts are hearty enough for full sun! I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

Take care! Cat:)


thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 14 months ago from India

Beautiful. Very unusual combination of colors.

You are really lucky to have it in your backyard

Thanks for sharing

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