Puya Chilensis, the sheep-eating plant was a native botanical species of South America. Now samples of it are flourishing in the UK for the first time. It was planted at RHS Garden Wisley 15 years before.
The plant appears to be huge at first sight. It is known in its provenance of South America as Puya Chilensis. Famously regarded as the sheep-eating plant, this botanical oddity is partially carnivorous. It has razor sharp spikes in which sheep and birds get entangled. Then they die a slow death from rotting as the plant dissects them. Finally, the decomposed remains are absorbed by the plant for nourishment purposes. In South America, the farmers and nomads would burn the plants so that their sheep could be safe.
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The UK planted its first Puya Chilensis 15 years ago. Today it stands as a full-fledged plant in a greenhouse in Surrey. One of the spokeswomen for the Royal Horticultural Society in Wisley said that the plant was fed a natural diet of rich liquid fertilizer. Feeding it sheep would have been a bit odd. And it is grown inside a glass greenhouse. Thus its deadly spikes can’t have access to children (or sheep) that visit the Society premises. The real home of the Puya Chilensis is Chile where it blooms in the Andes. The plant has green and yellow flowers on top of its dangerous spikes. The spikes are 12 feet in height and 5 feet in width. The fact that it is carnivorous does not detract from its good points. Its flowers lend birds and bees access to nectar.
The life of the plant after blooming is merely one week. And the Puya Chilensis is a fire hazard since it can catch fire easily. While not on the endangered plant species list in its Chilean habitat, its numbers have greatly diminished. That is one reason why a sample has been kept in the UK for preservation purposes. People will be arriving in scads to take a look at the tropical plant. Things that fascinate by their strangeness and weird nature are a delight. But the curiosity looks good only at a distance.
That is why the carnivorous plant will be kept at arm’s length from visitors and viewers. Nobody wants their children trapped in its huge razor sharp spikes. There have been other plants which trap insects, amphibians and even birds for food. The Venus Fly Trap is a perfect example of this phenomenon. It has a castanet like opening that has spikes. The vice like flowers close on the prey once it enters the plant. Then enzymes are released to digest it. This is very similar to the tactics used by the Puya Chilensis.