Northern Peru is a region of contrasts and extremes ... and even plant life muscles its way into the litany of tallest and highest. Puya raimondii is the world’s largest bromeliad (the family to which the pineapple belongs) and boasts the tallest flower spike in the world.
The length of time that the plant takes to mature seems to be a matter of debate. One puya raimondii planted near sea level in the University of California Botanical Garden, in 1958, grew to 7.6 m (24 ft) and bloomed after only 28 years; but those growing at higher altitudes only reach a height of 3 m (10 ft) in vegetative growth (still very impressive, though) and are thought to take up to 150 years to reach reproductive maturity.
However long it takes to arrive, the blooming process is nothing if not spectacular! An inflorescence of up to 10 m (33 feet) in height bursts into the air, covered with 8,000 white flowers, containing six million seeds, and taking just a few weeks to mature. You can almost watch it growing, such is the expansion rate.
After flowering once, usually in May, the plant withers away and dies. A trait common of many bromeliads.
While also known as 'queen of the Andes' in English, the name 'raimondii' commemorates the 19th-century Italian scientist, Antonio Raimondi, who emigrated to Peru and made extensive botanical expeditions here.
Raimondi first came across the species in the region of Chavin de Huantar and named it Pourretia gigantea in his 1874 book El Peru. In 1928, the name was changed to Puya raimondii by the German botanist, Hermann Harms.
Being native to the high Andes of Bolivia and Peru, at an elevation between 3,000 – 4,800 m (9,800 - 15,800 ft), it is not exclusive to Northern Peru, but Huascaran National Park is arguably the best place to see these prodigious plants, with a number of 'stands', as groups of Puya raimondii are known, to be found.
Aside from the Huaraz region, there are a few other locations to see these remarkable flowers. If heading to Lake Titicaca, for example, you could make the effort to get to Ayaviri, in Puno Department, which has a beautiful Puya 'forest' 20 km (12 miles) out of town.
Remoter still, these remarkable flowers can also be found at Vilcashuaman, a little-visited Inca site 120 km (75 miles) from Ayacucho; as well as in Comanche and Vacas, over the border in Bolivia.
As is probably evident from the few locations where Puya raimondii can be found, it is considered to be an endangered species. Please ask us how to see these remarkable and beautiful plants in their remaining natural habitats.