Don’t touch this plant! It might eat you!
As someone who suffers horribly from being within ten feet of poison oak, poison ivy and especially poison sumac, I know that some plants can create misery for humans. Another is the Giant Hogweed plant, which can cause severe skin irritation and even blindness.
But a sheep-eating plant?
That’s the name of a towering 10 foot South American flower that is set to bloom for the first time since it was planted in England 15 years ago.
The Puya chilensis blossoms once a year in its native Chile, but it has taken 15 years for this plant’s greenish-yellow flowers to appear at the Royal Horticulture Society‘s (RHS) garden in Wiley, UK.
No word as to why the RHS was so anxious to nurture these flowers but in fact, they don’t literally eat sheep; instead, in addition to emitting a foul scent, those flowers also come with razor sharp spines that have been known to ensnare sheep and other livestock in Chile.
There are, of course, carnivorous plants: predatory flowering plants that kill creatures in order to derive nutrition from their bodies. Over 600 identified species of these plants exist, of which the best known is the Venus flytrap, which uses a snap trap to catch insects; another is the pitcher plant, named for its pitcher-shaped pods, which act as pitfall traps.
The puya chilensis is not one of those.
According to Popsci.com:
Puya chilensis is a very large bromeliad, native to the mountains of Chile. Bromeliads are spiky, mostly tropical, mostly New-World plants, the best-known of which is probably the pineapple. But while the pineapple is delicious, Puya chilensis is a bit more…sinister.
Most bromeliads have firm, hard leaves, but Puya chilensis is sort of an extreme example. Its leaves look sort of like aloe leaves, but in between them are huge, sharp spines that jut out past them. Most plants that have spines, like cacti, use them for protection, but it’s theorized that Puya chilensis actually uses them for hunting.
How does this work? If a sheep gets close enough, the spines can snag on the wool of the sheep, entrapping them. Once impaled, the animals slowly starve to death and decompose at the bottom of the plant, acting as a fertilizer, BBC News reported.
I’ll have to accept their word for it, since it’s a little hard to imagine a sheep getting entangled its fur entangled in those spikes, which appear to be very high off the ground.
In any case, the staff at these gardens are using a more animal-friendly way of feeding the rare plant — liquid fertilizer.
ďIím really pleased that weíve finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower. We keep it well fed with liquid fertiliser as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic. Itís well worth a visit but parents coming along with small children donít need to worry about the plant devouring their little ones. Itís growing in the arid section of our Glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike,” said Cara Smith, who looks after the plant, in a statement.
However, it works, it’s good to know that this plant is safely ensconced inside a glasshouse. I imagine most Brits would not want the seeds from these flowers spreading around, causing many more sheep-eating plants to sprout.