Image Source: Flickr. By: Andras Jancsik.

Today’s Creature Feature can be found high in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru. It is the largest of the Puya species and also the largest Bromeliad.

The Queen of the Andes plant can grow up to 32.8 feet (10 m) tall and has more than three thousand flowers and between 6 and 12 million seeds on a single plant! It is a Critically Endangered species, with populations on the decline and they are a very isolated and scattered species. Outside of its native habitat, you won’t find many of these plants, except maybe a few dozen in botanical gardens.

Queen of the Andes will produce seeds only once in their lifetime—usually within an 80 year period—and they are very picky about their habitat conditions. If the environment isn’t to their liking by the time it comes for seed dispersal, very few (if any) seeds may germinate at all. Insect pollination and weather also plays a role in this.

Despite its pickiness for a good seed dispersal area, Queen of the Andes can survive some pretty harsh conditions. They can thrive in low altitudes, high humidity and high temperatures. They tend to live on sloping, rocky parts of the mountains, where air temperatures can reach -4 F (-20 C) or lower. They have also taken quite a battering from Climate Change, which is one of their main threats.

In addition to the ongoing threat from Climate Change and habitat alteration, Queen of the Andes has a lot of violence to deal with. People throw large stones at the plant (for gods know what reason), cattle trample or eat the younger plants, and then there are the fires. Fires are set in certain areas to make room for pastures. The plant’s sharp, thorny leaves are also burned so people can get to the starch in the trunk, which is used for nothing more than food for the cattle.

To find out more about the Queen of the Andes (including how different it appears between youth and adulthood), check out these links:

Uncle Derek Says: Puya raimondii
Strange Wonderful Things
…en Peru: Puya raimondii
Opuntia Blog