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An Eccentric Neighbor

May 25, 2011

Morning vision

I’m glad I’m a walker; I’d miss so many interesting sights otherwise. And, I love walking pre-dawn, when all is dark and chill … but leaving the house as early as 5:30 these days, it’s already fairly well-lit out. This past Sunday the cool morning light was my friend, when, as I neared Farimount Park, I caught in my peripheral vision an unbelievable sight: a puya berteroniana in bloom! Whatsa puya? I posted about them just over a year ago (read it here) after being taken by them in a Annie’s Annual catalog. Quickly: Puyas are distant relatives of the pineapple that hail from South America by way of Planet Bizarro; they sport unusual foliage (think stiff, saw-edged yucca-type leaves) and produce tall stalks laden with strange flowers in outré colors like black, blue, lime green and turquoise (I ordered one of each from Annie’s). Sunday morning’s puya was in full flower, its stalk well over 6-feet tall, with blooms in a mind-boggling color combination … how could I have such an eccentric beauty for a neighbor and not know it?

Sapphire, tangerine

Moving in for a closer look, I see the tri-cornered blossoms are a sapphire blue with an almost metallic sheen reminiscent of colorful anodized aluminum drinking glasses from the 1950s. And, nestled inside each blossom is a tight bunch of bright tangerine-orange anthers. The intensely contrasting color combination, the sheen, the shape; they all combine to give these blooms a “from somewhere else” quality… but I’m not thinking the mountains of Chile where they originate, these seem strangely Martian.

Attractive, sweet

Standing on the wall now, looking down, I can see that the blooms ring spear-like bud clusters along the main stalk. I wasn’t the only party enchanted by puya’s good looks: Two iridescent hummingbirds kept darting in for a closer, sweeter, look.  I wasn’t able to detect any fragrance coming from the puya’s blooms, but an intoxicating smell on top of all this exceptional beauty would just be gilding the lily, really.

Not from here

According to Annie’s catalog, the puyas I ordered wouldn’t flower for a couple years … this amazing puya specimen is in-ground, so I may move mine there, too. Clearly, they’ll flourish; I can’t wait! Later, in the afternoon I knocked at the owner’s door to find out how long ago she’d planted it, but there was no answer. It’s for the best really; gives me an excuse to return. This homeowner’s house and yard is a wondrous tangle of interesting plants that look decades old and not a little unruly. I’ve seen a tiny, older lady working among these plants, almost hidden, during other walks, but never spoken to her. Seeking information at her door, I was surrounded by interesting objéts, enormous, gnarled cacti and heavily patinated yard art and planters … and, that’s just the front yard! Needless to say I have to meet this lady and learn more about the puya, as well as the history of her home and grounds. Hopefully, she’ll allow me to take photos to share here, along with her story. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this statuesque neighbor’s beautifully bizarre good looks as I walk to the park and dream of the days when my own puyas will bloom in the colors of the Martian summer.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Mrs. Monstera permalink
    May 25, 2011 7:28 am

    Ahhhh… I love it! I, too, have a Puya (berteroniana) from Annie’s. It’s awesome because it looks great, even in the heat, the intense summer sunlight and even when I forget to water it for a few weeks. Tough, gorgeous plant!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      May 25, 2011 12:22 pm

      Has your puya bloomed? How long have you had it? I need answers (pictures, too!)

      • Mrs. Monstera permalink
        May 26, 2011 7:22 am

        I wish. I’ve only had it for around a year, so it’s nowhere near ready to bloom, but as soon as it does, I’ll let you know.

      • reubix1 permalink*
        May 26, 2011 12:05 pm

        Same here… I’ll put mine into the ground … and wait. **sigh**

  2. May 25, 2011 1:57 pm

    Looks like the puyas love your neighborhood. I’ve never seen one in bloom in my garden yet either. I hope you make friends with this woman — your description of her gave me a glimpse into my future!

    • reubix1 permalink*
      May 25, 2011 2:33 pm

      Your comment makes me smile, Denise … We should all be so lucky to have such a future!

  3. May 26, 2011 1:30 am

    Whoa!!!! Aren’t they amazing? There’s a big mass of them at SF Botanical Garden with three or four blooms of varying age happening. Here’s a blown out pic from flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/faroutflora/5720174795/ They have them labelled Puya alpestris (I’m not 100% sure what the diff is between the two).

    • reubix1 permalink*
      May 26, 2011 1:53 am

      Truly amazing plants! Thanks for sharing your pic of what look like wanton puya warriors run amok!

  4. May 27, 2011 6:58 am

    I can’t wait to get mine in the ground some day but I figure I am many years away from those magnificent blooms. The spines trouble me considering how big the plants eventually get. This is something you want to really be careful about siting.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      May 27, 2011 2:09 pm

      Hi, so your puyas are in pots, too? How long have you had them?

  5. May 27, 2011 4:22 pm

    what a surprise! thanks for helping us get a close look. amazing lines and color.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      May 27, 2011 4:26 pm

      I admit to slight trespassing to take these photos … But in the service of education (my own) I felt it was necessary!

  6. May 31, 2011 10:55 pm

    Still waiting for mine to bloom. It’s been four years in the ground. I guess with flowers like that, it will be worth the wait.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      June 1, 2011 2:47 am

      Definitely… I have to say seeing these puya flowers in pictures I thought, “Oh, they couldn’t possibly really be that color in real life!”, but they are!

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