Often cited as the Queen of the Andes, puya raimondii is the world’s largest of the 3475 known species of bromeliad with a magnificent flower spike that protrudes from a denser cluster of leaves. Puya is a pineapple relative with slender leaves and sharp thorns. Its gigantic inflorescence can grow over 30 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter with a potential to generate six million seeds.
Like most bromeliads, Puya is a monocarp i.e. it blooms only once in its lifetime and dies soon after flowering. What makes puya peculiar is that it takes 80 to 150 years to bloom until it bears around 8000 to 20,000 creamy white lily-like flowers that are 2 inches wide with bright orange anthers.
Pronounced as “ray-mon-dee-eye”, puya raimondii’s natural habitat ranges between an altitude of 3000m and 4800m in Andean mountains in Peru and Bolivia and is believed to be frost-tolerant to about -6 degree Celsius. Puya used to grow all over the Andes since pre-historic times.
Today, puya exists in very isolated populations of few hundred or less. The primary location of puya in Peru is Titankayoc – Chanchayo in Ayacucho in southern Peru, although it is found in clusters in Calipuy in northern Peru and Huaraz in central Peru. The population of puya raimondii in Peru is estimated to be 800,000 plants.
Puya raimondii is officially an endangered species in Peru. The cause of its declining population is attributed to its scattered distribution and genetic homogeneity due to inbreeding putting the plant at greater risk to diseases and parasites. Apart from that, human threats from local population like fires to generate pasture land; use of plant wood as fuel and building material puts enormous stress on these dwindling plants. Also, Puya trunk’s pith is sporadically harvested to feed domestic animals. Pith removal kills the plant.
Puya is protected using different means like artificial pollination, planting young puya’s all over Peru for landscaping, and cultivating them in botanical gardens. Many conservationists believe that not enough steps are taken to preserve the dying puya while the others hope that puya will not be lost. Whatever be the case, you must take a selfie with this majestic plant before it actually disappears.