Paul, Joseph, Kandi and Derek are all, apparently, Puya fanciers. But! It’s not P. alpestris, but P. berteroana – a species whose flowers are more turquoise than sapphire:
Yeah, Kandi, check out those spines! Even taking pictures is deadly!
And Paul and Joseph were correct – the long green structures are sterile (they bear no flowers) and serve as bird perches. The nectar almost runs out of these flowers, and as the birds get a sugar fix their heads are covered in pollen.
Thanks to Paul Licht, Berkeley Botanical Garden Director, for my short but fabulous tour that included these beauties.