California plant lovers get chance to see once-in-a-century bloom

BERKELEY Calif. Thu Jun 5, 2014 9:28pm EDT

BERKELEY Calif. (Reuters) - Visitors to a California university garden now have the chance to see a large, exotic plant showing off its once-in-a-century blossoming, garden officials said.

The plant, a Puya raimondii also known as the Queen of the Andes, is blooming at the University of California Botanical Garden in Berkeley, California. The rare bloom usually happens only once every 80-100 years in the wild, but the university's plant is flowering just 24 years after it was planted.

This will mark the second Puya blooming at the Berkeley gardens. The first, which occurred in the late 1980s, attracted thousands of visitors, a garden spokeswoman said in a statement on Tuesday.

At its base, the tall, green plant looks like the head of a palm tree. At its center, a large cactus-like stalk shoots out from the fronds and is about the size and shape of a surfboard.

The plant is pollinated by a variety of birds at the gardens and is expected to grow up to 30 feet (9.1 meters) tall and produce up to 30,000 flowers when it reaches full bloom, the spokeswoman said.

The plant was grown from a seed brought to the botanical gardens in 1990 from Bolivia and is part of the largest species of bromeliad plants in the world. Viewers can see the developing bloom from a wooden viewing platform in the gardens.

(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Sandra Maler)