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By tom_e_boi
Posts:  197
Joined:  Tue Mar 13, 2012 1:56 am
I was just doing my usual, surfin' the net, and I came across this interesting article which talks about a "sheep-eating" plant (Puya chilensis) that's fixing to bloom for the first time in 15 years at the Royal Horticultural Society's Garden Wisley in the U.K. It's not a typical carnivorous plant, but the article states:
"Per a BBC report, in its native habitat of Chile, the plant uses the spines to ensnare sheep and other small animals. After they starve to death and decompose, the animals nourish the plant through the soil, acting as a gruesome fertilizer."

Just when I think I've seen it all... *BAM!* Another plant reveals itself and throws me for a loop, HaHa! :lol:
Well, I thought that I'd pass this article on to anybody else that might be interested, in case you want to check it out too.

Sheep-Eating Plant Blooms For First Time; Puya Chilensis Started Growing 15 Years Ago
By coline
Posts:  1230
Joined:  Wed Feb 27, 2013 1:57 pm
Not exactly that species, but I have seen similar plants, bromeliads in their habitat, what they do is amost a barrier to anyone entering that zone, they are almost inpenetrable, when I tried to see the hole from the top of this cave in a beach here I encountered a mass of spines all around it, tens of plants like this, completely spiny and thorny blocked the way!!
By bananaman
Posts:  2059
Joined:  Sat Jan 01, 2011 2:54 am
There was a long, long (still ongoing) thread about this plant on the CP listserve after the article came out...
I'll post a copy of it so far ( with names and emails removed) later.
I need to make the copy with no names and such...
Last edited by bananaman on Sat Jun 29, 2013 5:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
By bananaman
Posts:  2059
Joined:  Sat Jan 01, 2011 2:54 am
I have the thread all edited for privacy!

Some parts are quite humorous...
It took forever (it was 30 LONG posts).
Just so you know this goes out in batches.
I know psudeonems would make it easier to understand, but I'm too tired to do that right now.
I'll put it in a code block so you don't have to read the whole thing...
Many of the forum members here (including me) and at least one well-known CP'er took part in this thread, so for those of you who subscribe to the list, I'm sorry for making you read it again.

Everyone else, enjoy!

Code: Select all
Message 1:
Hi all.

Many, many years ago, I wrote an article -  I think it appeared in the REMOVED journal.  For the first time, I'd ecribed how to me, it seemed possible, even probably, that some tue desert plants were carnivorous.  At best the article was ignored and some people even ridiculed it.  Nobody took the information seriously enouhh to investigate it.

I was referring to the bromeliads called Puya and similar other bromeliads.  As I explained at the time, they all bear stiff sword-like leaves, with fierce spines that point inwards!  Were the spines protectuon at being eaten, they should point outtwards!  I had noticed that birds would enter the rosette
 array of leaves, onlu to become ensnared and die from starvation or thirst.  Then the decaying corpse would provide nutrient to the plant.

NOBODY took me seriously!!!

Well, look what just turned up!!!

In news puublished by the BBC (, speaking of Puya chilensis they say:

"In the Andes it uses its sharp spines to snare and trap sheep and other animals, which slowly starve to death.

The animals then decay at the base of the plant, acting as a fertiliser."

So, it appears that I was right, all those years ago and, therefore, I formally lay claim to having been the first person to describe Puya and it's relatives as carnivorous plants.  Further, I lay claim to have identified a completely new trapping mechanism (backward pointing spines) and a previously unknown prey type - birds. 

I don't know who discovered that Puya also trap sheep but that wasn't me!  It seems likely that other prey is caught, including other mammals.  Sheep are presumably an introduced species in South America (are they?) so no plany would have evolved there to trap them (specifically).  The trapping mechanism more likely evolved to ensnare birds and perhaps other endemic or local mammals.  Both feathers and fur aid trapping.

By the way, this means that many Puya, possibly all, are carnivorous, along with several other similar bromeliad genera sharing the common Puya structure and inward pointing spine.

So, thanks BBC - and remember folks, you heard it first from me - multple new CP species AND GENERA!!!  (He who laughs last laughs longest - tehehe.)

The REMOVED may want to consider republishing the article along with a reference to the BBC information and its source.  Or perhaps other CP journals would like to do so?


Still in the DR.

Message 2:
based on present knowledge it seems like we can cultivate Puya chilensis with our "carnivorous" potatoes and tomatoes. We have the undeniable observation that Puya chilensis traps animals, and the probable hypothesis that nutrients from the decaying animal are absorbed. No evidence that the plant secretes enzymes, unclear whether we are *speculating* that the nutrients are absorbed through roots or leaves or both. The BBC writer's source for the claim that the plant *does* absorb the decaying animal may be Mabberley's 1997 book "The Plant Book" which merely says that the nutrients from trapped animals "may be absorbed (?foliar)" sic. I'll grant you that inward facing hairs are a very economical (and therefore noteworthy) adaptation if they do indirectly allow the plant to absorb nutrients, rather than all the fuss of modifying leaf shape, hairs, waxes, enzymes, etc. But overall the case for carnivory seems slim at present. Arguably the sticky hairs in potato are a more complex adaptation. The best news here is that perhaps someone can get a grant to further study Puya and see if the evidence of carnivory is less slender. I honestly hope you get it REMOVED--

Message 3:
I took you seriously enough to get a bunch of Puya species(including chilensis) from an online nursery.  Lovely sharp spines, attractive foliage and a propensity to leap off the shelves at me when I walked past with my hands full.  After a few years of that, I sold them!  Nasty spines, hungry plants and wicked tempers.  I still have scars... some of the deeper scratches got infected really easily.  I suspect a fungus on the spine tips.  

best wishes


Message 4:
I always heard that bromeliads where carnivorous. I have some growing since  
high school REMOVED that the ag. class replanted  and the teacher was kind  
enough to let the class bring some home.  Threw out the year it just sat in  
my moms garden along the house until a few years ago i pulled the mother  
plants out and separated her off spring and planted them threw out my  
parents yard. I even carried one threw out my renting adventures. Until a  
couple of months ago i got sick of renting and found a home to rest her  
roots onto the soil. Even thu i have never seen one devour an animal i have  
seen bugs get caught ever once in a while. It will be interesting to read  
further studies on the plants


Message 5:
REMOVED, Do you happen to have a link to your original article (Sounds like you might be unsure where it is)? Sounds interesting.

Message 6:
There are very few sheep in my suburban neighborhood, so I cannot comment
Puya's ability to eat them. However, I have a Puya chilensis that is between
three and 4 feet tall. It is growing in a pot, and I am not sure about how
hardy it is, so I bring it into the greenhouse for the winter. I move it
with great care and only those two times a year, yet I figured it must've
eaten several pounds of me in the process of doing this over a period of six
or eight years. 

The old leaves hang down over the edge of the pot so that there is no safe
place to try to pick it up. The slightest touch causes you to be impaled on
the spines, and then the little spine teeth break off and embed themselves
within your skin.

I only grow the stupid thing because I like unusual plants, and especially
plants that can fight back and bite you. Otherwise it would long since have
gone into the garbage bin.


Message 7:
REMOVED - plants no not have to produce digestive enzymes to be carnivorous - or perhaps people should throw out their Sarracenia purpureas?   :-)   As to whether or not Puya absorb goodness from the decaying sheep, Puya are not like many bromeliads that use their leaves as a vase to trap debris to use for nourishment.  They have no real vase and use their roots not to grow epiphytically (no nutrient role) but to act as a hold-fast in the ground and absorb food.  So, even in the absence of proof of absorption, they must be absorbing whatever happens to be in the soil, including putrifying sheep (or even the occasional passing REMOVED)!  :-)

REMOVED - yep, Puya are alive and will attach the unwary.  I too bear the scars!!!

All - realising that Puya sales are now about to boom and that most people don't grow sheep, I'm thinking of starting an Ebay business selling slightly rotting whole sheep as CP (Puya chilensis) food.  I will of course count on the support of all of you.   :-)

Still in the DR

Message 8:
Someone is going to go broke decade sheep omg i feel sorry for the sucker  
who gets that package in the mail pee u. Fresh meat or still moving only.
All of the bras ive seen are cup or vase shape. some with wicked thorns all  
over it and some with not as nasty thorns. I might just have to make a phone  
call the local bra nursery to see if they have some in stock to observe its  

Message 9:
In ten years' time, the experts will notice the dead insects that accumulate in Tillandsias (air-plants) and someone will propose that they are also carnivorous.

So Puya chilensis can eat sheep. Are they hardy in the UK? I'm looking for something that can eat cats.


Message 10:
If Puyas are "officially" ruled to be carnivorous by the cosmic counsel on all things carnivorous plants, does this mean we will have to start having joint meetings with the Bromeliad Society International? Seems that we are kind of invading their turf- this time we got a whole genus!! Keep up the hard work botanical infantry! Our orders are to caputure Ananas comosus by next Friday.
Joking aside, this raises the question once again as to what constitutes carnivory and where one draws the line- kind of reminds me of Ibicella. Has anyone established that this is not just a mere defense mechanism? Perhaps with an "opportunistic carnivory". I have had similar considerations with Stylidium before. I have not seen a lot of Stylidium but I get the impression that the sticky trichomes typically only occur on the flower stalk. I think it was in Barry Rice's book that I read that a study confirmed that Stylidium debile does in fact produce digestive enzymes in its trichomes. My perception is that some question does still surround the carnivorous nature of the genus, but assuming for the sake of argument that digestive trichomes soley occur on the flower stalk, it seems weird that said trichomes would only occur on the stalk close to where potential pollinators do their thing (and get slapped on the back- he he he.... Stylidium are so cool!).
What I have caught myself wondering is if the nature of this carnivory is not necessarily out of need (such as with drosera, etc...) but rather out of defense couple with convenience. The genus has evolved with a remarkable cross pollination strategy which I would suppose costs the plant dearly in terms of energy. It seems one could consider this in two ways- 1) The trichomes are in fact there to gather nutrients in support of the expensive flowering cycle (not sure what role said nutrients would actually play here)2) The trichomes are present as a "high pass filter" to prevent attempted pollination by insects which are too small or unsuitable to act as pollinators- given the great opportunity cost associated with each trigger event (perhaps the size of the flowers, shape, placement of the trigger, etc.. are a sort of analogous "low pass filter"). Over time, the plants have come to realize, evolutionarily, that in defending ones' self they have found a convenient source of nutrients to support their expensive reproductive cycle and have offset some of the opportunity costs associated with the trigger mechanism itself. Almost seems less like carnivory in the same sense of a Venus Flytrap and more of "carnivory in training" or for now "carnivory by convenience". Evolution is pushing those species in that direction but as of now bugs are a convenient meal resulting from the need to protect ones' pollen.
I wonder a similar thing here. Perhaps this is "carnivory by convenience" rather than "carnivory by need" (granted, both are carnivory- but the difference seems significant to me). Perhaps the evolutionary motivation here is to protect ones' self from those sheep and the plant has found that the most optimal way to do so is simply to kill said sheep rather than hurt them and allow them another chance to strike again (or perhaps there is another predator here and sheep are "innocent" bystanders. Collateral damage in the war between Puyas and whatever is really trying to eat them). The sheep then become a convenient food source.
My musings from a dark corner in a coffee shop.      
Message 11:
"Perhaps this is "carnivory by convenience" rather than "carnivory by need" (granted, both are carnivory- but the difference seems significant to me)."- Ok, a better way of drawing this distinction. This kind of seems to me like the difference between a "barbeque steak and mashed puh-ta-tas for dinner every night" meat eating junky and the weekend "vegetarian" who eats turkey when they visit family on Thanksgiving and shrimp on top of their salad occasionally. Both are eating meat but one would never equate them. It seems hard to lump them in the same category.
(Granted, being a vegetarian myself, I suppose I have a tendency to lump weekend vegetarians in with meat eaters)                                         

Message 12:
I am not familiar with this plant other than through this discussion - but
it sounds like the thorns are designed to trap and hold rather than repel.
To me if it is intentionally trapping and holding "prey", then benefiting
from it - then it is carnivorous.  If it is inadvertently killing a
predator with a mechanism primarily designed to repel or deter then it is

I guess it comes down to intent.  Time to cross-examine the plant to see if
it's murder or an accident.

I don't think killing and trapping would be a good deterrent.  In my
experience my CP can eat a lot of insects, but don't seem to make a dent in
the total population.  At least not outdoors.


Message 13:

        You are the new CP guru, we owe it all to you REMOVED!!! Your story of
final triumph over the skeptic CP community will make an amazing "feel-good"
Hollywood movie starred by Brad Pitt! Have you patented the plant yet?
Started a new religion around Puya, maybe? :) 

        Joking aside, I thought this article was very strange. I'm not sure
what the sources were, but why would anyone think this plant was adapted to
eating sheep, considering that sheep did not exist in the Americas before
Europeans arrived -- and they didn't even exist in their present
domesticated ultra-fluffy form until a few thousand years ago even! They
should've at least claimed the plants were llama eaters!

        Either way, *IF* any studies prove that these plants truly are
capable of trapping and eventually killing mammals (as well as absorbing
their decomposed remains as fertilizer), they would definitely fit in as
semi-carnivorous, maybe somewhere close to Roridula in their degree of

        Instead of trying to draw a line between carnivores and
non-carnivores, I like the "carnivorous syndrome" as defined by Juniper,
Robins & Joel (1989), where there are several levels of carnivory, like
Dante's "Circles of Hell". The inner circle contains those plants with all
the characters of carnivory: they can attract, trap, digest and absorb prey.
The 2nd circle contains plants that lack one of these characters, while the
3rd circle contains plants lacking two of these characters.

Best wishes,

Message 14:
In my opinion, Puya is not carnivorous.
I think it is more of a murderous plant, like the Devil's Claw plant. As far as I know, Puya are succulents. They grow high in the Andes. Up there, things do not rot when they die. They simply turn into mummies. Many mummies of both humans and animals have been found in the high Andes. Instead of rotting, the animals would simply dessicate. This would not provide nutrients to the plants. Therefore, trapping animals would not benefit the plant, and it is simply non carnivorous with adaptations to prevent predators.


Message 15:

My main problem is that I am so inundated with hollywood film offers that I am too muddled to know which one to sign!

Meanwhile, as I too wrote first and whether or not sheep are trapped and die (they are NOT killed so much as reputedly trapped and starve to death), it is obviously true that South American plants (inc puya) cannot have evolved to prey by design on animals that were not present during that evolution (i.e. sheep).

On the other hand, as I have said and published, the spines point inwards and act like hooks.  The allow animals, especiallu birds, to enter but prevent them leaving (i.e. escaping).

Let us not forget that ALL CPs primarily evolved to take advantage of habitats that most other plants could not survive in.  That those habitats were so poorly used by other plants because of th lack of nutrients drove the development of the carnivorous syndrome.  Puya typically grow in dry or even desert conditions.  Logically, CPers should always have been looking for carnivory in desert plants, a nutrient-poor habitat that would be a logical place for carnivory.  A form of carnivory that does nt need any liquid would be very logical in a desert - so a dry trap and even no outpouring of digestive fluid would perfectly suit evolution for desert life.

I have never claimed to see evidence of sheep being trapped - other than the BBC article - but I have seen planty of birds trapped inside Puya, ensnared by the spines.

As to how "carnivorous" they are, I don't disagree with (I too actually quite like) an interpretation that defines (very well) levels of carnivory.  However, CPers do NOT respect such definitions - think Sarracenia purpurea which is always treated by collectors as a CP (no derogatory level!)..   

Must go, I have a putrifying sheep business to start and a make-up session in preparation for hollywood film tests!

(PS - Oh how I love it when we don't all agree!  Isn't that called opinion and isn't that the core basis of science?)

Message 16:
Matter of "CP or not CP". Would Puya eat squ****ls?

Message 17:
I am not sure about squirrels or sheep, but I just came back in from
watering the outside plants. I had to reach in between my big Puya and some
other Dyckia's, and the Puya was left with a pound or two of my flesh, so
they definitely are fond of people.


Message 18:

Theoretically, if they can kill sheep, which I seriously doubt, I think they grab the sheep by the wool, and hold it until it panics and forgets it is supposed to be alive... sheep are kinda stupid that way... in theory, it should be able to kill cats, especially long haired types.  In practice though, you will be dead long before the cats.  The plants will come after you each time you pass nearby... having no protective wool, you will die the death of a thousand cuts... or emerge bloody and scarred for life both physically and mentally... kinda like the young recruit who was with me in basic training, who panicked on the live fire course and fell into a patch of razor wire, causing him to really freak out.  

Seriously though, these plants are fun, nice looking and no, I do not want any, thank-you!  They would make a good hedge to keep things out.  I doubt they could take the cold, wet English climate though... I was going to say wet winter, but I forget, when I was there it was wet all the time except a few weeks in the summer... kinda like Seattle or the Oregon coast, where I live now. 

Best wishes


Message 19:
You know, I have been looking for a solution to my door to door salesman problem for some time. "No Solicitors" signs just don't seem to have the fire power they once did. (New strains of salesmen are popping up all over the world which have become immune- all those people using signs inappropriately without a prescription!). Perhaps Puyas are the solution?

Message 20:
Good point about the mumification!! 

Maybe the retrorse spines serve to collect plant debris blown by the wind
instead, thus accumulating humus around the Puya rosettes.

Sorry REMOVED, I think your Hollywood career is dead...

Best wishes, 

Message 21:
Hey All,

Hmmm. So we have a plant with nasty recurved spines. Lots of plants
do---just do web search to find out how many plants are called
"wait-a-minute" plants. 

That said, I'm familiar with the genus Puya, and have even grown plants in
the genus. The plants are so damned hostile, I finally pulled them out of
the garden (with long-handled tools) and threw them out---the nasty hooked
leaf margins made them to dangerous to even compost.

But is it plausible this plant is carnivorous? I remind all that when
animals decay, especially big things like llamas (note REMOVED's insightful
commentary about non-native sheep), they flood the area with a variety of
compounds, most of which are not very useful to plants.

After all, have you ever seen a flush of growth of plants around a dead
animal? No.

Yes, I've bought blood meal or bone meal as fertilizers, but suggesting a
dead animal at the base of a Puya will help it, does not really even pass
the hah-hah test for me. 

FINALLY, while you can argue all you want, there is no evidence from the
field reporting that dead animals are commonly found captured by Puya

Sorry, those who'd like this to be a new kind of carnivorous plant, but I
think that this is simply a plant on the defensive. It's exquisite in its
hostile nature, but I find evidence of carnivory lacking.


Message 22:

A plethora of inward pointing spines is a very expensive evolutionary cost just to trap blowing debris.  And anyway, that explanations has no logical merit.  If wet animals (i.e. composed of 90+% water) don't decompose in the Puya (which I do not yet accept but I very much appreciate the opinion, , very worthy of investigatiion), then why would flying debris, which would often be drier than live birds?  

As to squirrels, I will surely put out non-lethal squirrel traps.  Once I have my live trapped squirrel, I will need to buy (Ebay) one of those old foot scanners (Acme?) so as to irradiate the squirrel.  (That'll let me test the Puya later for radiation.)  I will then shove the squirrel  into a Puya, waggle it around (ouch!) until it's well hooked and then leave it to die and putrify.   Once my hand has healed (!!!) I'll test the Puya for radiation.   

As to your comment, Fernando, on my Hollywood career - yah boo, you're just jealous!



Message 23:
I am with you on this one REMOVED, I do not actually think they are carnivorous, just hostile, and very very passive aggressive.  They would make a good movie monster, the perfect anti-hero in REMOVED's upcoming movie career.  Imagine a sci-fi thriller where we humans land, foolishly it turns out, on a desert planet (not unlike Mars in fact) where there is supposedly no life, but has a good enough atmosphere for us to construct concrete bunkers.  I can see them now, armies of them, draped in dead cats, squirrels, sheep, llamas, moose and a door to door salesman, advancing on the bunker that holds the last vestige of human civilization on the planet... mummified due to high altitude and lack of roughage in the diet.  What a scene, what carnage, what oscars, tillapias and other fishy awards it will win.  
Keep thinking films REMOVED, or fishing...

Message 24:
Good God, this conversation is starting to sound more and more like the Botanical Mad Libs game from hell. This has got to be the most entertaining thread since I joined the list!
More dead cats people!

Message 25:
"A plant on the defensive" .... "exquisite in its hostility"

REMOVED, do I have to send you money if I use those phrases?

A more serious question ... the consensus is, then, that the orientation 
of Puya spines is unremarkable, or at the least inconsequential? I take 
no position on the issue of Puya carnivory (other than that while it 
would be cool, like you, I don't see evidence of what we usually think 
of as carnivory). But my experience with plants with spines is that the 
vast majority seem intended to move potential predators away from the 
plant, rather than bring them closer.


Message 26:
Actually I myself am thinking this would be the perfect solution to chavs in my area. A breed far worse than the door to door salesman.
A bar of semi-precious scrap metal, or even lead, suspended above the plant would be the perfect bait. Seeing as most chavs like to walk with their hands down their trousers (pants, in the case of Americans) they would have no defence, and the baggy tracksuit bottoms would easily become ensnared in the spines of the plant. Trapped here, the chav would then more than likely combust due to over-concentration.

I believe this film could be getting better by the minute.

In all seriousness though, I really like the look of this plant, and may see if I can get one to compliment my already rather fearsome Bromeliad that grows in my bedroom.

Message 27:
Well i would say there are less squirrels running around the cat # are the  
same but there looking scared s***less


Message 28:
> But my experience with plants with spines is that the
> vast majority seem intended to move potential predators away from the
> plant, rather than bring them closer.


I'm not seeing what you mean.  The spines appear along the leaf margins
and generally do point outward from the center of the leaves.  Any
foraging animal will get a mouth full of spikes if it tries to bite on
these plants.

Defensive strategies can be harmful and deadly.


Message 29:
You will regret ever getting one for the bedroom... unless your goal is to eliminate any successful partnerings in there.  Leave it at the front door, and use the back door to enter and exit the house.  Your chav trap sounds great also for JW's too.  Not sure what to bait it with for them, but given time, we will find out yes?  As my GF says, the shaman of my tribe calls them "missionary traps"  and they would be the perfect gift for those in-laws you never want to see again.  



Message 30:
I'm sure you'll be amused to know that I myself am a Jehovah's witness! I laughed at that so much! Still not sure what to use as bait though...

I do have a few crazy cousins who would "benefit" from one if these.

Take care!
By coline
Posts:  1230
Joined:  Wed Feb 27, 2013 1:57 pm
Yeah, I have been reading it, very good opinions I have read, I posted a message, but the machine told me it was like "too big" so, I said that, yes it may be a murderous plant, but if then you start to talk about plants with inward spines as CPs, then you need to include many other blackberry plants, guinda trees, and others that have also a real deal of inward pointing spines, you normally tear your clothes if you have the luck to encountering one of them, and also, as they say, the desert mummifies any body there is so no nutrients are released, as to benefit from it.
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