Her imposing majesty Puya raimondii is known to have appeared in the United States on only two previous occasions. Better known as the "Queen of the Andes," the world’s largest bromeliad first bloomed in the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley in 1986. Twenty years later, another showing in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park disappointed her subjects when the 20-foot high stalk collapsed under its weight.
The first signs of a new Puya bud appeared at Berkeley in early May 2014. The stalk is now over 20 feet high and continues to grow. This specimen was planted 24 years ago from seed gathered near La Paz, Bolivia. The Bay Area climate appears conducive to early blooming as in their home country Puya typically don’t flower until they are 80-100 years old. At this point creamy white petals are beginning to unfold and the blooms are buzzing with bee and hummingbird pollinators. According to the gardeners, this Queen could eventually host up to ten thousand flowers and set 8 – 12 million seeds before she dies.
The Botanical Garden at Berkeley is located in Strawberry Canyon above the UC campus at 200 Centennial Drive. The Queen holds court near the top of the hill in bed 656, near the Garden of Old Roses. A temporary wooded platform that allows visitors easy access to photograph the bloom has encouraged numerous “selfies” in the company of her Majesty.
Where to Stay?
Two unique hostelries within 1.5 miles of the Garden, a 45-minute uphill walk, are both landmark properties adjacent to the U. C. campus that previously catered specifically to female guests. Built in the local Craftsman style as the College Women’s Club in 1928, the renovated structure, renamed as the Bancroft Hotel, opened with 22 guestrooms in 1993. The bed and breakfast establishment offers the closest accommodations to the campus. Berkeley City Club is a historic hotel with 35 modest size public guest rooms, a private social club, and an event venue. Opened in 1930, as a center for women’s activities, it was known as Julia Morgan’s “Little Castle” after the architect’s other project down the coast at Hearst Castle.
California Gardens Mobile App
California Gardens is mobile travel app, free from iTunes, that describes over 200 gardens that are open to the public on a scheduled or occasional basis. It includes arboretums, botanical gardens, public parks, college campuses, hotels, nurseries, wineries, and private estates that showcase the extraordinary variety of plants that thrive across the diverse climate regions of the Golden State. Download California Gardens from the Apple iTunes App Store (free) or Google play for Android