First, Ross got Bruce Dunstan to take a photo of an odd looking plant that he thought was reminiscent of Aechmea lasseri. I agreed with this guess but the plant had blue petals. So I tried it out on the Internet. Walter Till said, “Hybrid!” but Harry Luther stunned me by saying Billbergia viridiflora x liboniana. You see he had a copy of a painting done in 1885 for Morren and a copy of the copy is shown here. Investigation was needed!
In 1885 this was just a Billbergia hybrid that Morren didn’t even bother to name. This is what I translated from the French in Belg. Hort 35: 251. 1885
“A Billbergia viridiflora hybrid by Billbergia Liboniana provided the fertile seeds whose progeny has just decorated with flowers at the Liege Botanical Garden. They are interesting in that they combine many of the characters of their parents, but are deprived absolutely of the aesthetic advantages that could make it desired in horticulture.
In 1922 we know that Billbergia liboniana became a Quesnelia!
In 1942 in Chevalier’s Catalogue we find that this plant had been given the name of ‘Sebastian Laruelle’.
In 1979 the name appears in the ‘International Checklist of Bromeliad Hybrids’ as xBillque ‘Sebastian Laruelle’ but nothing else. The name xBillque is invalid and has since been replaced by xBillnelia.
How had the plant got to Pinegrove in the first place? Harry tells me that early in the 1980’s he received an unknown plant from Texas – he thinks! It was not an impressive plant and was not accessioned into Selby Gardens records. However, Ros Buchanan sent a ‘chunk’ back to Pinegrove Nursery in Australia where it has happily grown since. Apparently the Selby plant died and Harry does not want a replacement. In his words he says, “A dead ringer for the Morren plant. I can only expect this thing is the oldest bad hybrid in existence!”
Here, I have to disagree with Harry in that I would drop the ‘existence’ because even in 1885 it was considered ‘deprived’ and I think its origins are more likely to be in the 1970’s in the USA. I cannot see this sort of hybrid surviving two World Wars or being a remake with this parentage. Our plant has leaves than can turn reddish in sunlight and has an inflorescence that is compound at the base, in line with A. lasseri and I feel is a hybrid of it.
I have no idea if offsets from this plant have escaped from Pinegrove in the last 25 years but if they did AND you still have this plant you will know that it will be recorded in the Cultivar Register as Aechmea ‘Pinegrove Lass’.
In addition, if this plant is still being grown in Texas or elsewhere perhaps someone can tell me its origins!
xBillnelia Sebastian Laruelle painting courtesy of Kew Gardens and Harry Luther.