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. Flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds and perching birds.The stalk can be up to 10 m tall (30 ft) have over ten thousand flowers and set 8 – 12 million seeds. The Garden distributed seeds of this species in 1987, after a plant bloomed here in 1986.
When: We expect the flowers to start opening in June 2014. The flowering stalk may last from many months, but the plant (at least the large rosette) will then die (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 where the climate is cold and dry with nutrient-poor soils. This plant is in the South American Area collection of the Garden in bed 656, near the Garden of Old Roses. It is close to the bench located at the top of paved road leading to the rose garden
Why: Queen of the Andes plants in the wild usually don’t flower until they are about 80-100 years old. This Garden plant is only 24 years old. It came from seed obtained in 1990 from about 50 miles southwest of La Paz, Bolivia. We don’t know why this plant is flowering now. When the same species (different plant) flowered here in 1986 at the age of 28, it had been sun-shocked from removal of a neighboring plant. That isn’t the case this time.
Where else has this plant flowered?
Flowering in ‘captivity’ is extremely rare. We know only of flowering at the UC Botanical Garden in 1986 and at San Francisco Botanical Garden in 2006 (that plant fell over and flowered along the ground). Blooms in a plant as young as ours has not been previously recorded.
Conservation: There aren’t very many populations of the 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 and furniture. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorizes this species as endangered.
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