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A plant from Chile that kills and eats sheep… Puya chilensis

June 24, 2013

Puya chilensis, a temperate climate evergreen perennial and close relative to the comparatively tame pineapple, catches, kills and feeds off of relatively large mammals, including sheep.

P. chilensis doesn’t consume and digest plants by way of conventional carnivorous plant methods, but nonetheless, it will snag and trap a sheep in its masses of thorns, holding the animal until it dies of starvation, and then it will proceed to feed off nutrients supplied by the decomposing carcass.

The young leaf shoots of P. chilensis can be eaten by people. Baskets and such are made from strong fibers obtained from the leaves and stems of the plant.

Here is a short recent article on Puya chilensis, apparently a 10ft specimen has just bloomed for the first time at RHS Garden Wisely, in England. Cara Smith, a Horticulturist at Wisley had this to say about the rare occurrence:  “I’m really pleased that we’ve finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower. We keep it well fed with liquid fertilizer as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic. It’s growing in the arid section of our glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike.”

So, needless to say, Puya chilensis is a great contender for privacy screening / security planting along boarders shared with pesky neighbors.

Here are some photo I have posted previously of a very close relative to Puya chilensis, Puya berteroniana, spectacular in its own regard for its massive aquamarine/blue and orange flower spikes.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2013 10:08:46 am

    Imagine a botanical dystopia..

  2. June 24, 2013 10:08:02 pm

    question how does it trap sheep if hte flower is up high over it’s head? and how in the world can it trap a large animal like that and in the animals struggle not break the stem? this sounds more like a horror story then actual fact. I would think the poor animal would get it snagged in it’s wool and drag the stupid thing all around. I would believe more likly small animals like birds get trapped or small mammal like chipmunks when they climb the stalk and possibly try to get at the nectar?

    • June 24, 2013 10:08:33 pm

      Roberta,

      Thanks for the comment and the questions…

      Although I have not personally witnessed this plant capturing a sheep, I have observed the very similar growth habit of the closely related Puya berteroniana.

      I would imaging the sheep-capturing scenario might unfold something like this: A hungry grazing sheep spies some delectable looking flower spikes newly emerged from amidst a plethora of extremely spiky, barbed Puya leaves. The sheep decides to reach out over the spikes in an attempt to nibble on some tasty vegetation, but in the process a bit of wool gets snagged and caught up in the thorns. The sheep panics, struggling to escape but only becoming further enmeshed the the unforgiving masses of hook-like barbs. The sheep continues to struggle in vain. Eventually it grows tired. It continues to be hungry and all edible flower spikes are out of reach. The hot sun rises overhead and dehydration sets in accompanied by worsening fatigue and hunger…. and so on.

      The established Puya plants I have seen are quite daunting in terms of size. The stem of a flower spike is probably the size of a large forearm, tall and very strong, surrounded by impenetrable thickets of large spiny leaves. That said, I had similar questions to the ones you pose regarding the credibility of this sheep-eating plant claim, so I looked for an image of a sheep stuck in a Puya plant. I couldn’t find any first hand evidence.

  3. June 24, 2013 10:08:35 pm

    I guess you do what you do for a meal and plants are no different to the rest of us. In saying that…I am now going to sleep with a ring of glyphosate around the bed😉

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