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  for JULY

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Products > Puya alpestris
Puya alpestris - Sapphire Tower
Image of Puya alpestris
Habit and Cultural Information
Category: Succulent
Family: Bromeliaceae (Bromeliads)
Origin: Chile (South America)
Evergreen: Yes
Flower Color: Turquoise
Bloomtime: Spring
Synonyms: [Puya whytea]
Height: 2-3 feet
Width: 3-5 feet
Exposure: Full Sun
Summer Dry: Yes
Irrigation (H2O Info): Low Water Needs
Winter Hardiness: 15-20 F
Puya alpestris (Sapphire Tower) - This plant forms a 2-3-foot-tall clump of tight rosettes of recurving, spiny-margined, light green leaves that are silver-gray beneath. The leaves are about 1 inch wide at their base and narrowing along the 18-24 inches in length. In spring, but usually not each year, appear turquoise blue-green flowers (sometimes called metallic or "unearthly") with vivid orange stamen anthers held on branched 3- to 4-foot-tall conical stalks. Each branch of the inflorescence terminates in a long sterile branch that acts as a perch for nectar feeding birds - flowers are also very attractive to bees as the nectar is sweet.

Plant in full sun in a well-drained soil where it is drought tolerant but it can also be irrigated more regularly. Hardy to temperatures as low as 18 F for short durations - our garden plant undamaged at the temperature in our historic December 1990 freeze and it also weathered the cold spell in 2007 with 3 nights to 25 F. An attractive garden plant that really wows anyone that sees it in bloom with its flowers of such an unusual color that look like they are made out of plastic.

Puya alpestris is native to high barren slopes in the Andes of southern Chile and Argentina. The name for the genus come from the Chilean name used for the species Puya chilensis and the specific name 'alpestris' is the Latin word for alpine, in reference to where this plant is native to in the Chilean Andes. It is sometimes confused with the larger Puya x berteroniana that is now considered to be a naturally occulting hybrid between Puya alpestris ssp. zoellneri and Puya venusta, which has much longer (to 4-5 feet) and wider (to 2-3 inches) leaves and flowers that are a kelly green color.

We have grown this attractive plant since 1988. According to Victoria Padilla in her book Southern California Gardens (University of California Press, 1961), this plant was introduced into cultivation in California in the 1920s by then Santa Barbara Parks Superintendent E.O. Orpet, who received the seed from a Chilean source. 

This information about Puya alpestris displayed is based on research conducted in our horticultural library and from reliable online resources. We also will relate observations made about it as it grows in our nursery gardens and other gardens we have visited, as well how the crops have performed in containers in our nursery field. We will also incorporate comments that we receive from others and we welcome hearing from anyone with additional information, particularly if they can share any cultural information that would aid others in growing it.