Queen of the Andes plants in the Cordillera Blanca mountains, Peru
© Cyril Ruoso/Minden Picture
Queen of the Andes. Mountains fit for a queen
These towering stalks are flowers of the queen of the Andes, the world's largest bromeliad (a family of flowering plants that includes the pineapple). Some specimens can grow up to 50ft (15m) tall. This extraordinary plant has adapted to grow only in the tough conditions found high in the Bolivian and Peruvian Andes mountains. The queen of the Andes sends up her flowering stalk just once, after up to a century of painstaking growth. A single plant will bloom for about three months, producing between 8,000 and 20,000 flowers, then die.
Because mountains have a variety of altitudes, gradients and conditions, they are home to a lot of different climatic zones and ecosystems. The plants in our image are thriving in Peru's Cordillera Blanca (White Range), the highest and most glaciated tropical mountain range in the world. Several peaks in the Cordillera Blanca are more than 20,000ft (6,096m) high, so it is also a popular climbing destination. Each step up or down in altitude seems to introduce a new ecosystem, with plants and animals that have adapted to each zone.
Protecting this biodiversity is the theme for the UN's International Mountain Day, held on 11 December. On social media, use the hashtag #MountainsMatter to join the conversation.