Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The World's Largest Puya

Puya Raimondii

(The Bromeliad Society March-April 1974)

Puya Raimondii, according to some sources, is the only Puya species that does not reproduce by pups after its 28-40 year flowering cycle. Standing over 30 feet tall, and sporting literally thousands of flowers, must make this a truly impressive sight.

One can also assume that this Puya produces millions of seeds after flowering. Of course, as with other Puyas, this results in the death of the Mother plant.

I wonder why the taxonomists did not assign this plant to a different Genus. In the Orchid world, I have seen Brassavola Digbyana become Rhyncholaelia Digbyana, as well as scores of other changes during the past 30 years. The advent of DNA testing has further complicated the mix. One wonders why Puya Raimondii would not be classified differently than other Puyas, with its distinctive reproductive habits.

I hope some day to see one of these Puyas in their native habitat.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Puya Chilensis "Chagual"- A Native Food Of Chile And Peru

A Plant that grows between the IV and VII regions, endemic to Chile. "Species limited in geographical distribution and often confined to a small area," according to Encyclopedia of Chilean flora, where they add that is used in folk medicine as an emollient and astringent. In its other uses, their stalks are used to extract and manufacture fiber cords. I had no idea that this plant could be used both as ornamentals and food!

Whole Puya Chilensis and Ready to serve

I had not encountered Chaguales , also known as "Chaguar", though I knew the inside of the IV region for years. Around Cogotí there is a hill whose name comes from the name"Chaguareche", and is full of these plants.

What you eat is the tender part of leaves, which chop fine just like cabbage. You can find Chagual chopped and ready to go at street vendors, then dress at home and enjoy.

Chagual Salad

The most common way to eat it is in salads seasoned with salt, oil and lemon. Because its flavor is mild, you can combine it with other ingredients. I've heard of Chagual mixed with pieces of stalk of Cilantro, which adds a distinct flavor. I also found a recipe that adds onion, cilantro, and finely chopped Pimento. One innovative method combined it with pieces of raw papaya, with interesting results. The photo is with crushed hard boiled egg and some green olives.

In the most novel method I had heard of , Miguel Marchigue commented that people inside the VI region had also used Chagual as a filling in pies. As I could not resist "copucha" I asked directions on how they did. They told me the following: prepare the pie filling with chopped onion, chopped or ground meat and season as usual, and finally Chagual was added with finely chopped pine nuts and mixed. Then all the pies are filled, sealed and baked.

A family recipe I had heard of near Santa Cruz, made a fresh salad of Chagual, weeds and watercress.

In my search for exotic foods, I have found another recipe for Chagual pie online. Another way to prepare it is as a sweet jam or Chagual candy, someimes found at street vendors.

Article by Anabella (http://cocinartechile.blogspot.com )

translated by Google Translate. Edited by Alan Rogers

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Foolproof Method of Sowing Puya Seed

Puya seed is unusual, in that it requires exposure to sunlight to germinate. In nature, the seeds are carried by the wind, where hopefully they find an exposed medium. In sowing your Puya seeds, do not cover them!

Other Puya growers have invented a fine method of sowing Puya seed using a soda bottle. I like my Dome method best, because the bowls and saucers can be washed in the dishwasher after the seedlings are shifted up to larger containers. They can be re-used over and over again.

First of all, go to your local dollar store and purchase some pyrex bowls. Take them to your local garden center and find plastic saucers (the kind you put under plastic pots) that just fit the bowls. Drill some holes in the saucers for drainage.

Fill the saucers with a good quality potting soil. Syringe the soil with a fine mist nozzle until
it is saturated.

Sow the Puya seed sparingly. If the seed is fresh, germination should be high. The community pot should not be too crowded. Each saucer should host a maximum of 25-50 seedlings.

After the seeds are sown, mist again with the fine mist nozzle, being careful not to blow the seed out of the saucer. Just barely wet the seed.

Please the upside-down bowls over the seed. Place the domes in a warm area (70-80 degrees) in filtered sunlight. In about 4-6 weeks you will see a green carpet developing on the surface of the soil. If you wish, you may lift the dome periodically to check soil moisture.

Harvesting Puya Seed

Puya Mirabilis Seed Capsule

Some Puya species will set seed immediately after flowering with no hand pollination necessary. This Puya Mirabilis flowered in late June 2011, and I harvested the seed the week of October 5th. It is important to ensure that the seed is ripe, and the capsules are as dry as possible. If you live in an area with large amounts of rainfall, protect the capsules to prevent mold. Some of the capsules toward the tip of the flower spike may contain only chaff.

Remove the outer husk of the capsule, exposing the three lobes of the placenta.

The separated lobes of the placenta.

Each lobes contains the ripened seed, which easily falls out.

The empty lobes.

The harvested seed. It is important to store this seed in a cool, dry place. Also avoid storing in bright light. It should be sown as soon as possible to ensure viability.

The next article we will demonstrate how to sow your harvested seed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cold Hardiness

Puya Chilensis

Puya Mirabilis

Puya Berteroniana

Puya Venusta

Puyas' native habitat is in the Andes in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They normally grow in full sun, and are subjected to relatively harsh conditions not normally tolerated by members of the Bromeliacae.

Last winter, I subjected all of my seedling Puyas to the elements, to see which species are the most cold tolerant. Included were Puya Berteroniana, Puya Venusta, Puya Chilensis (chagual), and Puya Mirabilis. The were already established in 4" pots, and placed together in the open.

The lowest recorded temperature in Bakersfield was 28.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It was also one of the wettest Decembers on record. Because of the excessive rainfall, we had fewer days under 30 degrees than normal.

The toughest of all the plants was undoubtedly Puya Berteroniana. It came through with no discoloration on it's silvery armored leaves. It also tolerates full sun during the hot Bakersfield summers, with enough moisture.

The other species to survive was Puya Mirabilis, although it sustained some freeze- induced brown discoloration. It immediately started new growth in late February, with flowering occurring in early June.

Puya Chilensis and Puya Venusta all died as soon as it froze. This winter I plan to put some of them in a protected area to check for hardiness.