A few days ago, Brent Hine asked me to name my favourite herbaceous plant. After hemming and hawing a bit and giving the standard answer of “What's in bloom today?”, I settled on Puya as a provisional reply, at least in part because of the colours and structure. That's not to say I know a lot about them. I've only encountered a few in person, but I do know I want to see more.
For this particular species, the scientific name and the English common name seem to be the same. As mirabilis means “wonderful”, it would perhaps seem strange to call it the wonderful puya (especially when so many others are wonderful, too!). Native to Bolivia and Argentina, Puya mirabilis is one of over one hundred and fifty species within the genus. Puya species can be found throughout the highlands of South America and it is the Mapudungun vernacular name for this group of plants that lends the genus its scientific name.
As puyas go, Puya mirabilis is a short plant, reaching at most 2m (6 ft) in height. The tallest member of the Bromeliaceae, Puya raimondii, can exceed heights of 13m (43 ft), while many other members of the genus exceed 3 to 4m.