Rare and Unusual "Puya berteroniana"
Bloomed During April, 2008

       With metallic, blue-green flowers and orange accents, don't you agree that the plant shown on this page might look more at home in a silk flower arrangement? Our famous "Puya" is done blooming for this year -- which marked the fourth time since 2001 that crowds have gathered in the spring to see this bodacious bromeliad here at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Prior to that our charismatic plant spent three decades growing unobtrusively in a seldom-explored corner of the cactus garden.

       Rains of 2008 seem to have put the plant in peak condition, according to Steve Carter, Director of Horticulture at the Arboretum, who reported that during the second week of April the plant had a record three flower stalks reaching skyward -- and was approaching peak color. It was "camera ready" through about April 27, with some color from the last few flowers continuing into the first days of May. With bushy rosettes of blue-grey leaves topped with a seven-foot tall flower stalk of bright blue-green flowers, our lone Puya berteroniana is an attention-grabber when in bloom!

       Visitors are often surprised to learn that this genus of plants belongs with the Bromeliad family, and our Puya is more closely related to a pineapple than to native bear grass -- or the many variants of yucca and agave that line nearby trails of the Cactus & Succulent Garden. There are 168 species of Puya ranging from Costa Rica south into the Andean Mountains. Puya berteroniana is native to Chile and primarily found in the Andean Mountains.

        "Puya berteroniana is both rare and spectacular to see when in flower," said Steve Carter. "I know of no other one near this size in Arizona…and it is very unlikely you will see it in people's gardens. This specimen has been in our collection for more than 35 years and surprised us all when it first bloomed in April of 2001. One year later, it bore twin flower stalks, each about seven feet tall and topped with a beehive-size crown of metallic, blue-green flowers and bright orange anthers. Our plant measures 5-by-8 feet and has 16 heads or clumps of dense rosettes. It looks like a cross between Arizona's native bear grass and desert spoon with its arching, blue-grey, leathery and toothed leaves. This species of plant takes a long time to flower but is well worth the wait. There is truly nothing like their incredible, other-worldly looking flowers."

The Arboretum's Puya berteroniana can be found just ten minutes' walk down the Main Trail from the visitors' center. It is at the southwest end of the Cactus & Succulent Garden -- just beyond and across from the shaded waterfall at the Desert Legume Garden entrance.

      If you would like to know about other interesting seasonal plants in bloom, call Arboretum staff at 520-689-2723 during business hours.

Read about guided tours and other events at Boyce Thompson Arboretum