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Turquoise Puya

Journey to the Poor Knights Islands

Four million years ago, a volcano created some small islands off the coast of New Zealand.  Captain Cook discovered the islands in 1760 and named them the Poor Knights Islands.  Separated from the mainland for millions of years, the islands developed unique plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.  A spectacular example of this is the rare Poor Knights Lily - Xeronema callistemon.

Xeronema callistemon - Poor Knights Lily

Xeronema (pronounced Zer-oh-NEM-uh) has unusual bottlebrush flower clusters that grow horizontally, looking like a giant red toothbrush.  The flower stalks start out vertical and then take a curious turn sideways, perhaps as a landing perch for birds or butterflies.  Then stunning red flowers emerge straight up from the stalk, tipped with bright orange pollen.  These impressive clusters usually grow from 7 to 15 inches long.

Photo courtesy of Mary M. Palmer

It's illegal to land on the Poor Knights Islands, which are now a protected reserve.  This makes Xeronema an extremely rare species that few people grow in the United States.  It is uncommon in cultivation and rarely seen for sale.  I'm happy to offer it to collectors who want a challenging but rewarding plant.

Xeronema callistemon

Xeronema grows about 3 feet tall and forms a colony 6 feet wide, looking somewhat like an Iris or Phormium when not in bloom.  Even without blooms, it is a gorgeous plant.  Its bright green leaves are smooth and durable, almost feeling succulent.  In my opinion, it's worth growing the plant for its foliage alone.  Each leaf has a mysterious curved notch at the base where it touches the next leaf.  This is a spring-blooming plant, usually flowering around May here in California.

Xeronema callistemon

The temperature on the Poor Knights Islands is moderate and stable throughout the year.  It rarely gets above 80 degrees or below 40 (4-27 degrees C).  The plant has handled temperatures in the upper 80's in cultivation (31 degrees C) but it should be considered experimental in consistently hot conditions, particularly if nights are warm.  It can probably take a few hours of light frost, but i recommend protecting it from all frost.  Fortunately it grows well in a pot and may be grown indoors.  Xeronema prefers mostly-sunny conditions.  It may need protection from strong afternoon sun in warmer climates.  It grows best in fast-draining soil, with regular, light waterings.  It grows slowly but steadily, putting out new offshoots periodically, which may be separated.  Be patient, as plants reach flowering size at 5 to 8 years old.

Seeds are difficult to germinate, or sometimes counterfeit, so i offer established plants.

Check availability

 

More growing tips for it are here.

 

 

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