Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

There I was lounging about on a beautiful Saturday morning when I thought to myself. “I need a new plant”

Of course the truth is that I DO NOT need anymore new plants this year, but how can one resist. Like a nervous itch, this is the new trend in my life, packing my backyard with as many borderline hardy and totally tender useless BEAUTIFUL needy plants as possible.  There’s something more exotic about tropicals and/or non-natives. After working at a nursery for nearly half a decade I need something more “exotic” then a leucanthemum, stonecrop or god DAMN petunia! GOD DAMN STUPID PETUNIAS… I digress,  off I went to find the latest and the greatest.

Stopping at a couple of my usual nursery haunts (Elk Lake, Garden Works etc) nothing really jumped out at me. One needs to be reletively selective at this point of the crippling plant collecting game. Eventually I found myself at Brentwood Bay Nurseries, a nursery that is quickly becoming a personal favorite. They’re definetly #1 on the island for succulents and if you have a keen eye you’ll probably spot one or two plants you’ve never seen before. Walking into the nursery I visited the hot house, saw the usual great selection of succulents, and then spotted this amazing Puya Mirabilis just about to bloom. On my last visit I had noticed this strange specimen, and having read up on these rare bromliads earlier in the year, I made note of it. If we were more south I’m sure you’d see more plants like this, but up in Victoria you don’t come by Puyas very often. The fact that this one was in perfect bud, just about to pop, seems to good to be true. The price was right (it just so happened to be 25% off succulents) and I found my latest specimen.

Puya mirabilis, which in Latin mirablilis means “amazing, wondrous or remarkable”. While the plant’s foliage is relatively non exciting, looking much like a patch of scratchy saw grass, the blooms are known to be quite beautiful.  P. mirabilis is native to Argentina and Bolivia and is a long way of from home in my back garden. While many bromiliads grow in trees, Puyas for the most part are terrestrial and grow in ground. P. mirabilis can handle light frosts but in wet cold climates you’d be wise to bring it indoors during the winter. Many people report that you can water P. mirabilis like you would any other plant during it’s growing season but to be on the safe side I would recommend allowing it to dry between waterings.  Like overwintering many tropical plants decreasing water significantly in the winter would probably be a good idea.  Sun to part shade, if grown from seed it will take up to three years to flower. Propagation is from seed or rooting an offshoot, I’ll try my hand at splitting this pot once it has finished flowering.

Some scientists suspect some Puyas to be semi carnivorous in the fact that small animals often get caught in their spines, decay and thus nourish the plant below. While the thorn size varies from species to species, you can see that a large patch of P. mirabilis would be a real pain to weed close quarters. In Chili some people refer to Puyas as “sheep killers” although I think this dwarf Puya would have difficulty catching anything that big. Perhaps it could help with the mouse problem we have around here, a win win eh Mr Puya Plant.

Looks to be like growing barbwire. A welcome addition to the collection.

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.