|Scientific Name:||Puya raimondii|
Pourretia gigantea A.D.Orb.
|Taxonomic Notes:||The Puya clade is no longer considered to belong to the Pitcarnioideæ subfamily, but is a sister of the Bromelioideæ (Givnish et al. 2004, Horres et al. 2000, Terry et al. 1997).|
|Red List Category & Criteria:||Endangered A2ac+3c ver 3.1|
|Reviewer(s):||Pollock, C.M. & Hilton-Taylor, C.|
Puya raimondii is rivalled only by members of the Ceroxylon
palm genus as the most spectacular high-Andean plant. It occurs in often
very isolated and usually small populations or rodales from Peru
to Bolivia. Communities
frequently number a few hundred individuals or less, but can range up to perhaps 30,000 plants in Paso Winchus as well as in Cashapampa, Pachacoto and
sector Carpa, Huascarán National Park, Huaraz, which is probably Peru’s best
known location. Populations reach 10,000 in Rodeo, Arani
largest population which may represent one third that country’s plants. In Titankayoc in southern Peru’s Ayacucho,
however, there is an extraordinary site of several thousand hectares which
contains, depending on source, an estimated 250,000 to at least 450,000 plants.
With this arguable anomaly, the plant’s sporadic and scattered distribution and
extreme genetic homogeneity, detailed below, suggest the vestigial remains of a
species in decline. Outside its habitat,
there appear to be no more than two dozen mainly small specimens in perhaps
half a dozen botanical gardens.
|Range Description:||This plant usually occurs at around 4,000 m in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, but it ranges from 3,000 m up to 4,800 m (both extremes occur in Bolivia). Its communities are often very isolated from each other and can be found in pockets from Calipuy in northern Peru, Huaraz in the centre to Apurimac and Ayacucho in the south, crossing into western Bolivia’s La Paz province, Cochabamba in the centre and Potosí in the south. The most important site by far in Peru is Titankayoc - Chanchayoc in Ayacucho, while Bolivia’s largest known community is in Rodeo, Arani province. A single reference to Puya species in southern Ecuador and northern Chile has not been verified.|
Native:Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Peru
|Range Map:||Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.|
|Population:||Thanks to a single enormous subpopulation, which could represent most of the world’s population of P. raimondii, the number of these plants in Peru may number 800,000 individuals. Bolivia is estimated to have 30,000-35,000 plants.|
|Habitat and Ecology:||
Typical habitat for this species occurs at about 4,000 m but can extend from 3,000–4,800 m. At these levels, air temperatures range from very cold (as low as -20ºC or less) to an estimated maxima of 8–24ºC. Precipitation, as rain, hail or snow falls mainly from October to March. The ground is almost invariably rocky and usually sloping and friable. Drainage requirements or an inability to compete with other flora in more fertile land may account for the rarity of P. raimondii in damp gullies although a few specimens have been seen close to standing water. Still less clear is why a plant known to thrive in very different ex-situ conditions confines itself to a single spot on a mountainside when surrounded by seemingly similar terrain; or why population densities can vary considerably among and within communities.
The Puya’s ability to grow and even thrive in quite different conditions (low altitude, high humidity, high temperature) in which maturity can be reached in half the time needed in the wild, makes the plant a candidate for a range of ex situ environments.
|Use and Trade:||The Puya trunk’s pith is at least occasionally harvested to feed domestic animals. Simple furniture is sometimes made from the plant and its woody parts used for fuel. Leaves are buried upright in the ground to form rudimentary fences in a few Bolivian villages and can sometimes be inserted in the tops of stone walls to enhance separation in Peru where they may also be used to shed rain from adobe walls. Such usages are strictly local and usually small-scale.|
The Puya is susceptible to threatening events because its communities are generally small and very isolated from each other. This has apparently rendered populations extremely homogeneous genetically due probably to autogamous inbreeding depression and so at greater risk to disease, parasites or predators accompanying climatic change. The latter is well documented and manifest in Peru’s rapidly receding glaciers. For possibly related but as yet unknown reasons, at least one population has not flowered for decades.
The major risk in most communities, however, is due to human impact including repeated fires to generate or maintain pasture land and usage as fuel or building material by local populations. An added incentive is the fear that Puyas may ‘capture’ grazing animals with their leaves’ (fearsome) inward-curving spines. This is probably very rare but not inconceivable. Native birds have been ensnared and killed this way.
Puyas are officially considered endangered and protected by legislation in Peru (Law No 043- 2006-AG). But the practical enforcement of this measure are not evident outside of one national park and the law must be strengthened and enforced. Likewise, Peru’s pertinent authorities should be urged to promote Puya communities as a tourist attraction and to raise awareness of the plant’s value among both children and adults living near existing groves. Acción Ambiental plan to select at least one reserve for specific conservation measures. This may be the huge Titankayoc site or one nearer the major tourist destination, Cusco.
The plant also needs to be far better known and steps should be taken to strengthen communities of P. raimondii genetically. To this end, we plan to collect seeds from the most divergent Puya sites, altitudinally and latitudinally, to reproduce in nurseries as a reserve. Following further research and if endorsed by experts seeds might ultimately be used to cross-seed (some) existing populations. Reproducing and extending the plant, which in a sparse habitat has significant ecological importance, is another priority. Establishing one or more new rodales in promising sites will be evaluated.
The ‘Queen of the Andes’ is also of considerable ornamental value and introducing it as a dramatic landscaping element internationally as well as nationally is another goal. The author is aware of only a few specimens being used for such purposes in Peru’s Puno and Cusco provinces. Preliminary contacts have already been established with several foreign botanical gardens.
|Citation:||Lambe, A. 2009. Puya raimondii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 06 July 2015.|
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