Sheep-Eating Plant: How Does Puya Chilensis Trap And Eat Animals?

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 21, 2013 3:12 PM EDT

sheep eating plant
A sheep-eating plant, Puya Chilensis, has bloomed in England for the first time since it was planted 15 years ago. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A sheep-eating plant is blooming in a Surrey, England, greenhouse many years after it was first planted.

The plant, Puya chilensis, native of Chile, grows to 10 feet and is colloquially known as the sheep-eating plant for its bizarre method of eating. Sheep and other animals get caught on its sharp spines, then starve to death. When the animal decays, the plant absorbs the animal's nutrients, like a fertilizer.

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The sheep-eating plant is difficult to grow. When the National Botanic Garden of Wales planted its own sheep-eating plant, it took 11 years to bloom.

It has taken 15 years after it was planted for this sheep-eating plant to sprout flowers. The plant is located south of London, in the greenhouse of the Royal Horticultural Society.

"I'm really pleased that we've finally coaxed our Puya chilensis into flower," said horticulturalist Cara Smith. "We keep it well fed with liquid fertiliser as feeding it on its natural diet might prove a bit problematic."

The sheep-eating plant should flower for around a week, possibly more, says the RHS. The blossom of the plant is huge, with each bloom containing enough nectar for a person to drink.

According to the RHS, the very thing that makes the plant famous has led to more than a few of the plants being killed. In the Andes, the plant's native habitat, shepherds have been known to set fire to the plant before it can get to their sheep flock.

As for RHS's sheep-eating plant, Smith says there's no danger of it ensnaring any prey.

"It's growing in the arid section of our glasshouse with its deadly spines well out of reach of both children and sheep alike."

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