'Sheep-eating' Plant Ready to Devour – Uh, Flower – At British Garden

Friday, 21 Jun 2013 01:46 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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It is not exactly Audrey II from the Broadway play "Little Shop of Horrors," but English horticulturalists say for the first time that a Chilean "sheep-eating" plant is ready to bloom in the Royal Horticultural Society garden greenhouse in Wisley, south of London.

The gardening charity told the BBC that very few specimens of the Puya chilensis were known to have flowered in the United Kingdom. Puya chilensis are known for using their sharp spines to snare and trap sheep and other small animals, which slowly starve to death.

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The animals then decay at the base of the plant, acting as fertilizer. The horticultural society officials told the BBC it opted for liquid fertilizer to feed its Puy chilensis in the greenhouse.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales waited 11 years for its plant to bloom, though clumps bloom every April in the open on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.

"I’m really pleased that we’ve finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower,"  horticulturalist Cara Smith told the UK's Metro. "We keep it well fed with liquid fertilizer as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic."

Smith told Metro just to make sure the plant behaved, horticulturalists are raising it in a remote portion of the greenhouse so it can remain out of reach of children. The plant has bright, greeny-yellow flowers on tall spikes above the razor-sharp spines.

"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," Smith said in a news release by the horticultural society.

The society said the "blossoms are gigantic with each individual bloom measuring around five centimeters across and containing enough nectar for a person to drink. The plant’s taste for sheep has also proved its undoing in its native habitat where shepherds will go in search of the plants and set fire to them to protect their flocks."

Puy chiliensis can be commonly found in the arid coastal mountain region of central and north Chile, according to The Lost World Nursery. The plants are drought tolerant and can grow as tall as 10 feet, according the Lost World Nursery.

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