At botanical garden, bromeliad fans anticipate a rare bloom

There’s a lot of excitement this week at the UC Botanical Garden, where a spectacular South American plant that rarely blooms has formed a fast-growing bud.

example of puya in bloom

A Puya raimondii in bloom in the Andes (Pepe Roque via Wikimedia Commons)

A garden staff member discovered the new bud, barely showing, on Puya raimondii during a recent bird walk in the garden’s South America section, says garden director Paul Licht. “Unfortunately I can’t offer a reasonable estimate” of its bloom date, “since there is very little in the scientific literature. We’ll see how it progresses in this week’s heat.”

An endangered species native to the high Andes, P. raimondii, the largest of the bromeliads, can grow to nearly 10 feet in height, topped – on the rare occasion that it blooms, usually around age 40 – by a spike as tall as 30 feet high bearing thousands of flowers and up to 6 million seeds.

When another P. raimondii bloomed at the garden in 1988, it attracted thousands of visitors and made the New York Times, Licht says. The specimen that’s currently forming a bud at the garden is just 23 years old, which puts it well ahead of schedule.

For updates on the Puya, see the UC Botanical Garden Facebook page. The garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.