I was prompted to write this article because plans are afoot to have a comprehensive review of this genus.
This all started for me about 5 years ago with me pondering why there was no hair on the flower of my F. villosula as the name implies. This meant I had to argue against what was in Baensch’s Blooming Bromeliads page 158.
I had grown my plant from seed from the BSA seedbank from years before. Fosterella is one of the few genera that self set seed easily and profusely AND never seem to hybridise. In fact I prefer to grow this genus than say Cryptanthus which has a plethora of hybrids of mixed up parentage. Here at least there are botanical descriptions and plants have a sort of pedigree. Needless to say, horticultural misnaming is rife purely because owners do not check against the written records.
In this particular case I was lucky that Len Colgan brought me back from one of his trips to Bolivia a copy of ‘Revista de la Sociedad Boliviana de Botanica Vol2 #2 1999’. Luckily most of the Bromeliaceae part was in English! Here Pierre Ibisch described the new Fosterella latifolia with no apparent link to other species. This did not raise suspicions at the time. However, in 2002 in Selbyana, Pierre Ibisch added to the knowledge of the species and mentioned F. villosula and even modified the description of this species from that in Smith & Downs. Now this did intrigue me!
I even sent a plant to Pierre for him to flower in Germany. Was our plant F. latifolia as I thought? In 2007 Pierre said he believed our plant was F. latifolia despite having narrower leaves than expected.
From a taxonomic point of view, collection data is essential, but where did I get my plant? Quoting the BSA seed list would not be much help!! Reference to the Journal of the Bromeliad Society 39(6): 269. 1989 showed that my mate Kenneth Quinn (yes, I have lots of Bromeliad mates due to the marvels of internet!) then in California, had acquired a F. villosula in 1988. How, why, and where were vague but the plant description seemed to link with my plant and thus the plant in Baensch’s book. We had a bit more historical data because it is strongly feasible that the Aussie plant had links to the USA rather than Bolivia. This does not satisfy the taxonomist but at least shifts the investigation from my backyard.
I am enclosing photos for those who do not bother with written descriptions so you can decide whether to change your label from F. villosula to F. latifolia. I do suggest you take this action because as far as I am aware the TRUE F. villosula is not in Australia.
Ed. - For a text description see "Bromeliads in Australia" Photo Index of F. latifolia.
Photos by Pierre Ibisch.