A rare and exotic plant taken from the Chilean Andes more than 20 years ago has flowered for the first time in Birmingham.

The alien-looking Puya alpestris plant, which can take 10 years to flower, arrived at Birmingham Botanical Gardens two decades ago.

The specimen is a bromeliad, distantly related to the pineapple, that relies on hummingbirds to ensure its survival in the wild.

But in the Victorian glasshouse in Birmingham - 7,000 miles from Chile - horticulturalists are in a race against time to pollinate the plant themselves using a small paintbrush.

The plant, which is also known as the sapphire tower due to its spectacularly coloured flowering spikes, is native to the mountainous regions of central and southern Chile, at elevations of up to 7,200ft.

After the birds pollinate it and the fruits and seeds develop, the mother plant slowly dies.

Staff at the botanical gardens are using a paintbrush to carefully collect the pollen and hopefully fertilise the plant so it produces viable fruits and seeds.

Alberto Trinco, senior glasshouse horticulturalist, said: 'Each flower only last a few days giving only a limited window of time for us to give nature a helping hand: in the absence of its natural pollinators, we will attempt some human pollination instead.

'The plant arrived here more than 20 years ago. It is extremely slow growing so to witness its spectacular blooms is very exciting and rare.

'Hopefully pollinating the flowers with the brush to obtain seeds will allow us to secure the presence of this amazing species in our collection for future generations to come and admire.'

The Grade II listed site is home to 7,000 plants and trees.

This year the botanical gardens is embarking on a transformational £14m project - Growing our Green Heritage - to restore the historic glasshouses, improve the site infrastructure and increase the public understanding of the importance of plant biodiversity.

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2024-04-15T10:38:44Z dg43tfdfdgfd