Friday 20 May 2016

Queen of the Andes

Image: inyucho
Puya raimondii
*pew pew*

Commander Humperdinck grimaced as he fired photon-rockets from his shoulder mounted, heavy light-bazooka. White trails arced over the carnage of the Andesian Royal Hall and exploded into multi-coloured sparks that sent vegetable men sprawling in all directions. The hall filled with the stench of vegetarian roast dinner.

Image: Wilmer
Commander Humperdinck and his men made short work of the Royal Guard. They had to. Doctor Winsome Jones had been kidnapped days ago and the sacrifice to the Great Sky Citron could begin any minute. It may already be too late.

Not for the first time, Commander Humperdinck cursed the bureaucrats at the Star League. Why were they sending men - good men - to explore newly discovered planets unprepared and underfunded? They should have known that planet Andesia was inhabited by armed and dangerous men. Plant men. With wooden skin, twiggy arms and leafy, green hairstyles.

Image: Daniel Parks
Commander Humperdinck grit his teeth as he crashed his way through the bone doors, sending splinters of bone into the throne room to signal his arrival. He gasped at the column of power that towered over him. He had gained an audience with...


Image: Clivid
The Queen of the Andes is the biggest bromeliad in all the world!

Bromeliads are a family of plants most famous for their spiky leaves, pineapples and all the species that live high up on the branches of trees in the Amazon, providing little pools of water for poison dart frog tadpoles to live in.

Image: Clivid
The Queen of the Andes is a very different beast from those treetop bromeliads. She's a queen for one thing, so I really shouldn't call her a 'beast'. Besides, not even the mightiest of trees could handle such a monolith clinging to its branches! And she doesn't live in rainforests, either. This Queen grows more than 3,000 metres (9.800 ft) up on the rocky slopes of the Andes in Peru and Bolivia. There she must brave temperatures that can dip below -20ºC (-4ºF). At least she's in no danger of sweating. That would be beastly.

The Queen of the Andes usually exists as a kind of gigantic pom-pom of spiky leaves. Each leaf is like a cruel sword, edged with hooks to defend the Queen's person from attacks by herbivores. Those traitorous herbivores!

Image: Pepe Roque
Never tell a queen she looks like an enormous fertility monument
These pom-poms are already some 3 metres (9.8 ft) tall but then, after a whopping 80 to 120 years, the Queen finally comes into flower.

Now an enormous flower spike grows up to 10 metres (32.8 ft) tall. It's covered in more than 8,000 whitish green flowers that turn purple with age. It's a great time for local hummingbirds, for the Queen is most bountiful and most charitable.

Image: Eric Hunt
Now the Queen can shed about 10 million seeds. Hopefully, HOPEFULLY, at least some of them will land in the right soil to grow, prosper and begin a reign that will last the next 100 years. And with that, after about a century of life and a single act of flowering, the Queen of the Andes dies.

The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen, hopefully.


elfinelvin said...

Wow! The plant reminded me of a yucca, but no yucca ever had a flower like that. (I think.) Let me know when you write that book, I'd like to hear the rest of the story. ;)

TexWisGirl said...

my gosh. huge!

Joseph JG said...

@elfinelvin: Ha! If Commander Humperdinck ever has some Further Adventures I'll be sure to tell you!

@TexWisGirl: Yup! And surrounded by sparse rocks to make sure everyone can see it!