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Rare ‘sheep-eating’ plant blooms outdoors in Surrey

Written by on 23/07/2021

A rare “sheep-eating” plant has flowered for the first time since it was planted outdoors in Surrey around 10 years ago.

The Puya Chilensis, which is usually found in the Andes region in Chile, sent up a three-metre spike of bright flowers at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) garden in Surrey.

The plant is dubbed to be a “sheep-eating” plant due to its deadly features.

'Sheep-eating' plant
Image: It’s known as a ‘sheep-eating’ plant due to its deadly features

Matthew Pottage, curator at RHS Wisley, told Sky News: “There’s no physical chewing up of sheep.

“In their native environment they form huge big hummocks of these big thorny leaves.

“So any grazing animal nearby, could be a sheep because they’ve obviously got a lot of fur, goes in for shelter and shade from sun and then has the ability to basically get stuck.

“They’ve got all these big backwards facing barbs so anything that’s stuck in there, stays there, decomposes, but then feeds and fertilises the plant.”

More on Surrey

RHS Garden Wisley, Matthew Pottage
Image: Matthew Pottage says this is a result of ‘extreme weather’

It is a rare occurrence to see in the UK as this type of plant typically blooms in a warm and dry climate.

It can take up to 20 years for it to flower, but this plant in Surrey is only around 12 years old.

It usually is only able to sustain itself over one or two winters, however milder winters and warmer summers have had an impact on this.

Mr Pottage said: “It’s generally not something that grows through the winter in this part of the country successfully, so for it to be growing here and flowering here is something that we’re quite proud of.”

RHS Garden Wisley
Image: It’s believed more exotic plants could thrive in the UK as the climate changes

With a changing climate, experts believe the UK landscape could begin to look a lot more exotic in the future.

Mr Pottage added: “If we keep going as we are, it is these moments of extreme weather, we’ve obviously just had a very extreme heatwave, and it’s that kind of heat that is promoting these plants to flourish and do well.

“They’ve put on a lot of growth and that helps them survive cooler periods in the winter time as well.

“So if we carry on with the current trends, this thing I dare say will be a thing of the future.”

 Sky News

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