Friday, June 21, 2013

Plant with a palate for mutton

The Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley in Surrey, England, has been trying to coax a Chilean plant to bloom for 15 years and it's finally about to do so. The Puya chilensis is native to the Andes and has a special reputation. It is tall (the plant at the RHS stands 10' or 3 m), but that is not what is so noteworthy. And it is armed with spines (hooked spines which point inward and outward on its leaves and sharp spikes on its mace-like stalk), but that just helps get the job done. Like the Venus flytrap and other carnivorous plants the Puya has a taste for meat. It uses its razor-sharp weapons passively to snare and trap animals as large as sheep, which slowly starve to death at the base of the plant. As their bodies decay, the liquids sleep into the soil and provide nourishment. Says horticulturalist Cara Smith of the specimen in their greenhouse, "We keep it well fed with liquid fertiliser as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic."

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