Who: Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii) is a terrestrial bromeliad. Many bromeliads are epiphytes, growing on the surface of other plants and getting their food from the air and accumulated plant matter trapped in branch crevices. Terrestrial bromeliads have their roots in soil.
What: This is the largest bromeliad species in the world. The plant is going to flower spectacularly. The stalk can be up to 10 m. tall (30 ft) have thousands of flowers and set 8 – 12 million seeds. The Garden distributed seeds of this species in 1988, after a plant bloomed here in 1986.
When: We expect the flowers to start opening in June 2018. The flowering stalk will last a couple of years, but the plant will die then (it’s monocarpic, which means it flowers and sets seed once before dying).
Where: Queen of the Andes are native to high elevations (over 4,000 m or 12,000 ft) in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. These plants are in the South American Area collection of the Garden in bed 656, near the Garden of Old Roses.
Why: Queen of the Andes plants in the wild usually don’t flower until they are about 80 – 100 years old. These Garden plants are only 28 years old. We don’t know why these plants are flowering now. When the same species flowered here in 1986 at the age of 28, it had been sun-shocked. A neighboring tree had come down, removing the shade over the plant. That isn’t the case this time.
Where else has this plant flowered? We know only of flowering at the UC Botanical Garden in 1986 and in 2014 (a sibling of this plant), and at San Francisco Botanical Garden in 2006 (that plant fell over and flowered along the ground).
Conservation: There are only three populations of Queen of the Andes in the wild. Most of them have many thousands of plants, but their genetic diversity is very low. They may be unable to adapt to changes in climate. Human impacts to the populations include repeated fires to generate or maintain pasture for livestock forage. Plants are also used for fuel. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorizes this species as endangered.
Listen to Garden Director Eric Siegel talk about Queen of the Andes
Queen of the Andes 2018
June 28 – The first Puya raimondii beginning to open!