Sheep-eating plant flowers for first time at RHS Garden Wisley

Puya chilensis, thousands of spines capabe of cutting open a man's hand

Puya chilensis, thousands of spines capabe of cutting open a man's hand - Credit: RHS / Carol Sheppard

A giant Puya Chilensis flower bud, standing three metres high, burst into bloom in the Glasshouse at RHS Garden Wisley for the first time since it started growing 15 years ago.

In its natural habitat in the Andes it uses its razor sharp spines to snare and trap sheep and other animals, which slowly starve to death and decay at the base of the plant, providing it with the grizzly equivalent of a bag of fertiliser.

“I’m really pleased that we’ve finally coaxed our Puya Chilensis into flower,” says Cara Smith, who looks after the plant. “We keep it well fed with liquid fertiliser as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic.

“It’s well worth a visit but parents coming along with small children don’t need to worry about the plant devouring their little ones. It’s growing in the arid section of our Glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike.”

The blossoms are gigantic with each individual bloom measuring around 5cm across and containing enough nectar for a person to drink.

Very few specimens of the plant have been known to have flowered in the UK, perhaps because of the difficulty of replicating its unique diet.

The plant’s taste for sheep has also proved it’s undoing in its native habitat where shepherds will go in search of the plants and set fire to them to protect their flocks.

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The plant should remain in flower for around a week, possibly more.