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January 2006

<I>Vriesea hieroglyphica</I>
Vriesea hieroglyphica
- Articles appearing in this issue of NEWSLINK are for information purposes only and are not necessarily endorsed by the Committee or the Illawarra Bromeliad Society.
- The Society is, by the holding of meetings, displays and competitions, to provide a forum for the people of the Illawarra region who are interested in the culture and collection of bromeliads.
Congratulations to the points score winners for 2005, who were awarded their trophies at our Christmas party. Thanks also to those members who compete regularly throughout the year, sharing their beautiful plants with us.
OPEN: Alan Kirkby

NOVICE: Rena Wainwright


We will again be using the roster system for providing prizes for our monthly raffles, and to make things as easy as possible for members, if you are unable to supply a bromeliad then items such as potted herbs, cuttings, spare fruits/vegetables from your garden, gardening tools, etc. are acceptable.
If you are unable to attend the meeting — and/or are unable to supply a raffle prize when rostered — it would be appreciated if you would either ’work a swap’ or speak to Elizabeth about getting a fill-in for your month.
As our membership fees are kept very low, we rely on these raffles to help defray the costs involved in the running of our Society, and so your support is very necessary — and very much appreciated.

February Ailsa/Doreen Netting/Sylvia
March Pat McIntyre/Laurie/Sharyn
April Rena/Peter/Martin
May Dawn/David/Doreen Dunwoodie
June Nina/Rhonda/Elizabeth
July Judith/Jarka/Joan
August Russell/Phillip/Beth
September Pat Alton/Carmel/John Carthew
October Keith/Eileen/Val
November John Fleming/Meri/Carolyn

Beth and Pat have organised the bus trip for Saturday, February 25 to take in two bromeliad nurseries, and, if time allows there are three other nurseries on the list, including one specialising in cactus and succulents, the Lily Pond Nursery, and the Geranium Cottage Nursery, all in the Glenorie/Galston/Dural area. Cost is $25. We will be conducting the usual fund-raising raffle on board, so if you have any little gifts that you would like to donate they would be most welcome. There will be a morning tea stop (tea/coffee and biscuits supplied) at Heathcote around 9.00 AM; BYO lunch—hot water will be available. Any queries, call Beth (02) 4447 2213 or Graham (02) 4261 1173.

Dear Glad celebrated her 94th birthday on January 20th, and we hear that she spent a very special day, going out to lunch, etc. with her family.

Glad was an inaugural member when our Society began in 1992 and she remained a very active and generous member until just a couple of years ago when she moved to Yamba. Glad helped out at every Show, bringing her competition plants all the way from Culburra, and she crocheted an exquisite shawl as a raffle prize for our Conference fund-raising efforts in 2001. Her kindnesses extended to Society members as well and I treasure the shawl which she made for me, as I’m sure Bob Gray does his. In fact, she is still crocheting and continues to take a great interest in sports, enjoying watching the recent cricket tests and the Australian Tennis Open.

We wish you Many Happy Returns, Glad!

Coming Events :

Mar. 4 - 5 Bromeliad Society of Queensland – Autumn Show and Plant Sale – MT COOT-THA BOTANICAL GARDENS AUDITORIUM, Brisbane, Saturday 4th – 8 am – 4 pm; Sunday 5th – 9 am – 3 pm. Adults $3/Children under 14 accompanied by an adult Free. For further details, contact: Norma Davis on (07) 3389 1061 (H).
April 7 - 20 Bromeliad Society of New South Wales – Display and Competition at Royal Easter Show - Homebush
April 29 - 30 Bromeliad Society of New South Wales – Autumn Show. Cnr Shaftesbury Road and Clifton Avenue, Concord.
May 6 - 7 Bromeliad Society of Australia - Autumn Show. Burwood RSL.
June 6 - 11 World Bromeliad Conference – San Diego, California. Email:
Sept 9 - 10 Illawarra Bromeliad Society - Spring Show. Uniting Church Hall, Russell Street, Corrimal.
October 14 - 15 Bromeliad Society of Australia - Spring Show. Burwood RSL.
October 28 - 29 Bromeliad Society of New South Wales - Spring Show. Concord.


February 4: Pup Removal and Potting Up [presented by Graham and Nina)

March 4: Miniature Neoregelias [presented by Ted Clare)

April 1: Aechmeas

May 6: Foliage Vrieseas

June 3: ‘Spot the Difference’

July 1: Christmas in July – a party in the Gardens

August 5: Annual General Meeting
- Preparing Plants for Show

September 2: Aechmea recurvata – species/hybrids [presented by Graham Bevan]


PLANT RESULTS - October 1, 2005

1st Rena Wainwright Aechmea recurvata
1st Ailsa McDonald Neoregelia ‘Sunrise’—two beautifully coloured plants
2nd Ailsa McDonald Neoregelia (‘Aussie Dream’) ‘Glorious’
2nd Rena Wainwright Billbergia Hoelscheriana

1st Suzanne Burrows streptocarpa
2nd Ailsa McDonald Tillandsia recurvifolia var. subsecundifolia

PLANT RESULTS - November 5, 2005

1st Alan Kirkby Vriesea hieroglyphica
2nd Ted Clare Neoregelia Bob and Grace
2nd Ted Clare Neoregelia Orange Flush
3rd Alan Kirkby Neoregelia Predatress
3rd Graham Bevan Vriesea schwackeana

1st Suzanne Burrows Neoregelia Golden King
2nd Suzanne Burrows Guzmania Denise
3rd Suzanne Burrows Aechmea gamosepala v. rubra
3rd Suzanne Burrows Aechmea nudicaulis

1st Ted Clare olmosana
2nd Ted Clare sucrei
2nd Graham Bevan variabilis
3rd Graham Bevan baileyi
3rd Suzanne Burrows fuchsii


Tillandsia variabilis: Graham brought along 3 examples of this plant to our November meeting, two of which were mounted and the other in a pot. These plants were all of the same age, but, to our surprise, the plant in the pot was nearly three times as large as the mounted specimens and had two large flowering pups. Only one of the mounted plants had thrown a pup! (Nina also made the comment that she had never seen this species in flower before.)

Guzmania Denise: Sue’s plant is a Corn Bak. cultivar of G. lingulata x G. squarrosa, having a large, rich green broad-leafed rosette with a glossy bright red lingulata-type inflorescence which stays in bloom for months. (Beadle, D.A. (1998) The Bromeliad Cultivar Registry.)

Neoregelia Golden King: A very pretty medium-size plant which was imported into Australia from the United States by Bob Larnach. The parents and hybridist are unknown but there seems to be some Neoregelia carolinae in the mix. The variegated leaves are a soft yellow-green [which can also include an orange-pink overlay], and the centre flushes to a shade which I would describe as vermillion when in bloom.

Neoregelia Predatress: N. ‘Predatress’ is a sport of N. ‘Predator’, ‘Predator’ being a rather complicated cross made by Chester Skotak circa 1990 (named by Peter Tristram) of ((carolinae x ‘Painted Lady’) x ‘Takemura Princeps’)) x carolinae x ‘Dark Spot’. Neoregelia ‘Predator’ is albomarginate, of medium size, with red blotches and spots on green and white. The whole plant brightens up at flowering time. (Beadle, D.A. (1998) The Bromeliad Cultivar Registry (Updates) )
‘Predatress’ is variegated, with brightly coloured blotching on white and green for most of the year.

Neoregelia Blast: Another Skotak hybrid (also named by Peter Tristram), (carolinae x ‘King of Kings’) x carolinae ‘Perfecta Tricolor’, it is a beautiful, symmetrical plant with many albomarginate leaves, flushing to a bright pink centre at flowering time.

Aechmea fulgens Variegata: Nina brought her lovely plant to the October meeting and said that while it had been a popular plant about 20 years ago (2 plants were imported from Kent’s Nursery around 1977/78), it is difficult to grow without marking and requires the warmth of a bush house, plus overhead shelter and no turbulence. Nina said that the remarkable thing noticed about the plant is that after the inflorescence starts to dull and get a brownish look to it, it will ‘pump up’ to look quite lovely again and so that one shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to cut off the inflorescence.


We were delighted when Steve Morgan, our newest member, drove up all the way from Bateman’s Bay, along with his young son Lucas, to attend our meeting and gave a talk on his method for growing some of the large vrieseas, such as Vriesea hieroglyphica and Vriesea ‘Red Chestnut’, from seed.

Steve told us that growing from seed is not as difficult or as time-consuming as you might think and that zippered polyvinyl bags—the kind that blankets/doonas, etc. come in—are the secret.

His method is as follows:
Gathering the seed. When the lower seed pods on the flower stalk start to split, he takes off the head, putting it in a paper bag where the pods seem to burst open quite quickly after that.
Planting Medium. Using a plastic seedling tray (36 x 30 x 6 cm/14 x 12 x 2-1/2 inches which can often be obtained free from nurseries) he fills it with peat which has been sterilised by putting into boiling water.
Next, he spreads the seed onto the top of the peat (not too thickly, so as not to disturb too much when potting on) and then mists the seeds and mix with rainwater, using a plastic spray bottle.
For 3 months the seeds/seedlings are misted every day with rainwater.
After 3 months, Steve adds a pinch of Phostrogen to the water—but uses this fertilizer mix only over a 3 day period, and then returns to the usual rainwater regime.
In winter he places the tray inside the zippered bag (as mentioned above) and brings it indoors where it is given a position in good light. Within 2-3 weeks there should be some green showing where the seeds have germinated. (Steve showed us an example of his seedlings in the tray which had been planted up in mid September and they were around 2 mm tall—when I spoke to him at the end of January they had grown to around 4 mm.)
Potting on: When the seedlings have reached sufficient size (about 1 cm with around 4 leaves) to be potted up, Steve uses a mix of crushed charcoal/Perlite/peat/and cheap potting mix—(he sieves the potting mix and also the charcoal, which he has broken up with a hammer, to remove any large pieces, then adds the Perlite and peat) and pots the young seedlings up—10 seedlings to a 100 ml squat pot—somewhat in a circle, so that the leaves gently touch (which apparently helps the seedlings to prosper)—and away from the edge of the pot. (Vriesea hieroglyphica seedlings are quite slow-growing at this point and will have taken around 12 months to reach the 1 cm size, while Vriesea gigantea will grow faster - 8-9 months. In contrast, Neoregelia and Aechmea seedlings may take only 2-3 months.)
Mist-spray every day in the warmer weather (from Spring on), although perhaps not every day in winter.
Feed for 1 week, as above—leave 1 month and then fertilise again.
Wind is a big worry with seedlings and they need to be protected. Steve mentioned that Bunnings carry small glass houses which sell for around $23, which are ideal for this use.

Vriesea seed (if kept in a paper bag—not plastic, which can cause seeds to rot—and kept in a cool place, a drawer for example) seems to remain viable for some time (perhaps for as long as 12 months) and the seed which Steve had planted 4 months after picking had all germinated.

For any fungal problems, Steve uses Yates ‘Anti-Rot’. Take care not to use anything with copper in it—as we know this can be deadly to bromeliads.

Steve has noticed that Vriesea seem to time their flowering so that seeds are ready to be planted out in the Spring. At our November meeting he told us that at that time of year we could expect to find that tillandsias have germinated after 2-3 weeks and vrieseas after 10-12 days.

With Tillandsias, Steve has found that, once misted, they will cling quite well onto tree fern logs/pieces.

He has also planted them onto coconut fibre, but found that when he had left them too long under the plastic cover they had rotted.

While species/cultivars such as the Vriesea hieroglyphica/Vriesea ‘Red Chestnut’ can take up to 9 years to flower, this is a great way to get largish numbers of these plants and their display can be enjoyed well before this time. Speaking at a New South Wales Society meeting, Mark Paul said that he can get the large Alcantareas to where they are making quite a showing in 3 years and we can also expect some of the Aechmea and Neoregelia to be flowering in 3 years. By showing us what he has been able to accomplish, I am certain that Steve has inspired at least a few of us to try growing some of our own plants from seed. Thanks, Steve!

By John Catlin.

(Reprinted from the Central Coast NSW Bromeliad Society Inc’s Bromelia Post, January 2006 issue, which in turn was reprinted with acknowledgement to Bromlink, the September/November, 2004 issue of the journal of the Gold Coast Succulent and Bromeliad Society.)
Most people understand that seed should not dry out or it will die. This same principle applies to seedlings that have been transplanted into their next container. The moisture level of the soil and the humidity level surrounding the seedlings is critical, not too wet for long periods or they cannot breathe, too dry and they dehydrate. Another point is that most understand that bromeliad seed is sown on the surface of the seed-raising mix. However, often when the seedling is potted up, it is buried with the growth eye below the surface of the soil. This is responsible for most deaths. The growth eye should be level with the surface or just above it. If the seedlings don’t stand up, support them with bamboo skewers.

By Polly Pascal

(From Journal of the Bromeliad Society January/February 1991, Volume 41 No. 1—reprinted from The Commentary of The Bromeliad Society of Broward County, Inc., March 1990)
The most colorful of the wet-growing vrieseas come from Brazil and the family color is yellow. These plants are epiphytic and need good air circulation and good drainage; the thin-leaved varieties like shade and lots of water. To provide good drainage put rocks in the bottom and drainage holes in the sides or bottom of the pots.

There are three ways to water vrieseas: the entire plant and potting mix, just the plant, or misting the foliage.

In fertilizing, use not more than 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons of mix to one gallon of water. If Osmocote is used as a pot feeder, go very easy on the amount used. Vrieseas respond to foliar feeding but use one-half strength and do it more often, early in the day or late afternoon in the summer months, once a month. Add enough to have the cup overflow.

Avoid having floppy lower leaves on your plants. There should be a corresponding relationship between plant and flower spike. If the plant is starved it produces a short and skinny flower spike.

There are exceptions to the rule and the following vrieseas are dryer growers:
V. fosteriana ‘Red Chestnut’, V. gigantea, V. gigantea ‘Nova’ and V. saundersii, V. splendens and similar species are cold sensitive.

Vrieseas seldom ever get fly speck scale. Brown speck scale may come from overcrowding. They can be grown outdoor here (Florida) at any time, but the best time for them is in May and June with the start of the rainy season.

The things I have learnt from my mother.
(- Diane Timmins. From Bromeliad, Journal of the Bromeliad Society of New Zealand Inc., September 2005, Vol. 45 No. 9.)
My parents Hazel and John Jack were long-time members of the Bromeliad Society of New Zealand as well as several other horticultural societies. My mother caught the bromeliad bug having won a Neoregelia carolinae var. Tricolor as a raffle prize.

She became a member of the rather small and select Bromeliad Society some time about 40 years ago. Initially there wasn’t the variety of plants that we have available now, but there were an enthusiastic few who enjoyed sharing the fun of bromeliads. The Bromeliad Society itself had members who imported bromeliads on their behalf—back in the days when it was a lot easier to do so. These plants were then offered up on the monthly trading tables, in a ballot system similar to what we have now. Over the years my mother gathered a substantial number of varieties, including an extensive collection of tillandsias. As a result she accumulated a great deal of knowledge through experience. I was lucky enough to learn from this.

I would like to share a few snippets with you.

I can’t help but start with the one on the top of my list. It is the one that caught my husband’s eye as I prepared some notes for this—he wondered where burly men fitted in with bromeliads, and probably more so, my mum.

As my parents both became older, their relatively steep property made it difficult to manoeuvre the very large potted plants around. My mother looked up the local paper and contacted a man advertising as a gardener. A great help he was, moving heavy plants around, splitting large clumps, lifting potting mix and such, but it was ever so funny to see him holding large pots at arms length where possible, and with an unhappy grimace. On questioning this turned out to be a dislike for spiders. Not so tough. Then there was the other ‘burly man’ commissioned another time on a similar quest. He offered the same extended arm pose and almost the same disgusted grimace. His problem? “The water that pours out of the plant’s centre—sometimes it stinks!”

And this one is my husband. Come-on guys, get tough!

*FIRST PUP RULE* — courtesy of Grace Goode (well known Australian hybridist).
Basically, the first pup that comes up from your plant will generally be the biggest and the strongest. Just keep that in mind when promising a friend that they can have a pup off your wonderful new specimen. You keep the first one for yourself (at least).

Don’t get too impatient when wanting to remove pups from the parent plant. If you take a pup off too early and you’re lucky enough that it survives, then it is probably going to sulk. It will just sit there, it won’t root, it won’t grow, and it won’t do anything. This will go on for about a year, just to get you back for cutting it off too early. It can be frustrating caring for it so that it doesn’t rot off over winter.

This is for your own discretion. I know from my mother’s garden that it is possible to grow a magnificent full size healthy specimen in a minute pot. My mother always used little pots. There was definitely an economy factor in regard to 1. Cost of soil and fertilizer. 2. Cost of pot. 3. Saving space.
However, I would only recommend this if you are a vigilant gardener. My personal experience involves plants that are grown hard. That is, plants that are exposed to extended periods of dryness, or cold, or sun—or any other environmental factor. These plants definitely survive better—grow larger and healthier, when grown in a larger sized pot. There is also a wind factor. I always used to have my bromeliads in relatively small pots, and laugh at their toughness as they rolled around in a nasty storm. However, the loss of a couple of special pups soon ended that endearment. Although—keep in mind my mother’s other trick—put the small pot inside a larger container. This makes a nice display, and she also felt the inner pot was protected from severe sun or cold by the outer layer surrounding it.

Mum used to come up with this as a lovely tillandsia would plop off a beautiful piece of driftwood that had been artistically chiseled by weather and tide. The plant had been leaned on, poked, glued and tied onto the piece over several years. But the plant never gave an inkling that it might actually decide to attach roots to the new home we had so carefully chosen for it. Mum would always relate back to where the natural habitat of the plant would be. If they come off cliffs, attach them to rocks, and if they grow on trees, you can attach them to wood by a number of means, but the plant just seems to know if the log is dead—and it knows it’s not a good idea to attach to that.

This is the rule of thumb for liquid fertilizing your bromeliads. Do this during the growing season only, say October to December, and March to May. Mum used to refrain during the hottest, driest part of the year in case lack of water might lead to the concentration of the fertilizer inside the central cup. This may cause a chemical burning of the newly forming leaves, seen as brown tips of the leaves as they grow out from the centre of the plant. The fertilizer my mother used was an orchid foliage feed, diluted to one quarter of the recommended dose for orchids.

Even now, when we go through garden centres together my mum will turn a bromeliad that is on a display around. She’ll say, “That’s better—don’t they realize bromeliads have a best side—a front and a back. Now it’s smiling up at us.” And I have to agree with her when she wanders through her garden admiring the dramatic foliage and forms of the broms and says, “Who needs flowers when you have these lovely plants?”
Her garden is laden with bromeliads as she proclaims their ease of care, and has been developed over many years to cover virtually the entire property. This leaves almost no lawn whatsoever. She frequently comments on other properties we visit, “Look at all those lawns that have to be mowed.” That always put a smile on my face—and my father’s as well I’m sure—as to this day I have never seen her on the pushing end of a lawnmower!

This was always a concern when a favourite plant finally reached its state of maturity where it decides it’s time to go into flower. “I hope it doesn’t use up all its energy and not have enough left to send up any pups,” would always be the comment.

Plants such as red leaved Neoregelias that are known for their sun hardiness would never show signs of stress or burning in previous decades. In more recent times there has been a visible increase in the incidence of sun damage. Mum put this down to the dreaded greenhouse effect that we keep hearing and wondering about.

Well, that about covers a few words of wisdom passed on from someone with a great deal of love for bromeliads, and a great deal of experience in growing them. I hope there is something there that you can apply to make the pleasure of your bromeliad hobby even more rewarding. I enjoy them so much that I now work with them full time—and remember:
If you enjoy your job, you will never work a day in your life.
Bye for now, Diane.


By Geoff Lawn
No bromeliad is truly devoid of leaf colour (i.e. black), but some come close with predominant or solid shades of indigo, magenta, mahogany and aubergine purple, to deepest ebony. These dark beauties can be loosely grouped into two categories of those with rather fixed pigmentation and those of very variable foliage hues. Anthocyanic pigments, which mask or combine with the green undertone and serve several purposes, produce this foliar attractiveness.

Some bromeliads have inherently high amounts of anthocyanins, such as Cryptanthus zonatus forma fuscus, many of whose progeny hybrids are dark to a degree, even in moderate to low light. Excessive light can turn them an objectionable muddy brown shade. Characterised by thin, shiny leaves, in this group the bicolored-leaf Aechmeas, notably Aechmeas victoriana var. discolor and fulgens var. discolor, are parents to ‘Belizia’, ‘Betty Pfeuffer’, ‘Black on Black’. ‘Black Jack’, ‘Black Flamingo’, ‘Black Tiger’, ‘By Golly’, ‘Chocolate Soldier’, ‘Dark Crystal’, ‘Ebony Glow’, ‘Grape’, ‘Jean’, ‘Lullaby’, ‘Mirlo’ ‘Nightlight’, ‘Pica’, ‘Perez’, ‘Prieto’ and ‘Tonado’. Cultivars or hybrids of Aechmeas orlandiana, nudicaulis, recurvata and dark-leaved clones of chantinii are ‘Blackie’, ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Black Marble’, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Black Prince’, ‘Jackson’ (syn. ‘Bill Barrett’), ‘Nigre’, ‘Pickaniny’ and ‘Shadow’. In other genera of forest-dwelling ancestry are Nidularium ‘Nana’, Canistropsis ‘Plum’, and a host of Cryptanthusacaulis var. ruber, ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Black Magic’, ‘Darkling’, ‘Deep Purple’, ‘Don Garrison’, Genuineus’, ‘Gillian’s Joy’, ‘Mason Congo’, ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Sangria’ and ‘Witches’ Brew’.

The other category have thicker or more leathery leaves and tend to require direct sunlight or bright diffusion. Reliant on the daylight length and intensity to induce this seasonal ‘suntan’ effect, they revert to greener tissues if available light is inadequate. Of course, during the growing phase, poor light (such as constant cloud cover) and overfeeding, particularly with Nitrogen, can result also in excessively-long, narrow leaves, affecting rosette shape. In many cases species name forms with the invalid term “rubra” added (e.g. Aechmea lueddemanniana ‘Rubra’) may be simply not different genetically to “normal” (unless the extra redness is transmitted by seed) but rather are more light-exposed specimens, whose foliage colour soon fades in lower light.

Examples are: Alcantarea ‘Black Cinders’, vinicolor; Dyckia ‘Cherry Coke’, ‘Dark Chocolate’, ‘Dark Night’, encholirioides, ‘Gypsy’, ‘Port Wine’, ‘Red Devil’, ‘Ruby Ryde’; Billbergia ‘Black Gem’, ‘Clyde Wasley’, ‘Sangre’; Neoregelia ‘Black Bandit’. ‘Black Devil’, ‘Black Magic’, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Dark Delight’, ‘Dark Diva’, ‘Dark Horse’, ‘Darkest Hour’, ‘Dexter’s Pride’, ‘Fosperior’, ‘Little Black’, ‘Little Africa’, ‘Mandela’, ‘Midnight’ (Wurthmann), ‘Pitch Black’, ‘Plum Sheen’, ‘Popolo’, ‘Prince of Darkness’, ‘Purple Princess’, ‘Royal Flush’, ‘Voodoo Magic’, ‘Thor’; Werauhia sanguinolenta ‘Rubra’. Among bigenerics are XCryptbergia ‘Red Burst’, XNeomea ‘Magenta Star’, XNidumea ‘Midnight’, XNeophytum ‘Burgundy Hill’, ‘Shiraz’ and XOrtholarium ‘Burgundy’.

Over 4000 different plant pigment compounds called flavonoids are known, present in all higher-ranked plant families’ foliage, roots, stems, flowers, bracts, fruit, berries, seeds and even bark. Flavonoids are sub-divided into chalcones, flavones, flavanols, flavanones, isoflavanoids and anthocyanins.

To date there are nearly 600 different anthocyanins discovered in the plant kingdom. Their main purpose in bromeliads is to shield or screen the upper leaf surfaces’ DNA and photosynthesis process from excessive sunlight damage. This function applies especially to sun-exposed, sparsely-scurfed wild species in the thinner atmosphere at high altitudes, particularly if stressed through moisture and nutrient deficiencies. Comparable foliage colouring nearer sea level is not always possible in cultivation. In deep shade-tolerant species in forest habitat it seems likely that dark red or purple anthocyanins in the foliage reverses (e.g. Canistropsis burchellii) gather and reflect unabsorbed light back into the mesophyll, effecting photosynthesis, since solar radiation is proportionally enriched in red and far red light by selective absorption of the shorter wavelengths as it passes through leafy canopies. Anthocyanins in bromeliad foliage are sometimes more pronounced at flowering, as per Billbergia ‘Penumbra’, whose outer leaves turn more inky blue. Many types have castaneous inner leaf sheaths (e.g. Aechmea caudata) or blackish outer leaf bases (e.g. Vriesea erythrodactylon) which are thought to encourage small fauna to hide and defecate there, nourishing the plant. Dark blue “fingernail” leaf tips (e.g. Vriesea bituminosa) are considered as possible cue markers for pollinators. Pronounced blackish horizontal crossbands (e.g. Vriesea splendens), vertical cyanic pinstripes (e.g. Guzmania lingulata) and deep purplish foliage spots (e.g. Neoregelia pauciflora) may enhance autotrophic performance (carbon gain).

A select group feature blackish inflorescences in part. A number have navy blue or black petals, including Pitcairnia nigra, Tillandsia atroviolacea and Puya humilis. Such species’ flowers attract pollinators by either bright scape or leaf bracts, or, in the case of Puya coerulea var. violacea, scarlet-branched rhachis (stems) with prominent gold stamens protruding from black petals. Vrieseas ‘Negro’ and ‘Van Ackeri’ display amaranth scape bracts with contrasting yellow flowers. In many species (e.g. Aechmea bracteata) mature fertile ovaries or berry sacs change to blackish pods when ripe, a signal for seed eaters that they are edible, ensuring the viable blackish seeds within are distributed once excreted.

Another theory may be applicable to bromeliads as with other plants is that certain foliage anthocyanins are bitter-tasting, repelling predators. Obviously more detailed field studies are required for definitive answers specific to bromeliads.

The solar radiation used by plants to manufacture carbohydrates is photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). Most if not all bromeliads convert this energy by the complex C3 type photosynthesis pathway. Four primary classes of leaf pigments utilizing the full light spectrum, often in tandem, are:
1. Chlorophylls. Chlorophyll A absorbs visual light spectrum wavelengths other than green (particularly red and violet) and reflects blue-green light. Similarly, Chlorophyll B, an accessory pigment, reflects yellow-green light.
2. Carotenoids. Absorb blue light and pass the energy over to Chlorophyll A molecules. They also protect against short wavelength visible and ultraviolet radiation. Reflect orange-yellow light.
3. Xanthopyhylls. Associated with carotenoids and assist chlorophylls. Reflect yellow light.
4. Anthocyanins. Reflect red, violet and blue light rays.

In cultivation at least, particularly responsible for foliage burn is ultra-violet (UV) light, which is outside the visible light spectrum of 400-700 nanometers (nm). Based on wavelengths, it is divided into UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. The longer wavelength UV-A has less energy and causes little or no damage to humans or plants. UV-C is absorbed by atmosphere oxygen and rarely strikes the Earth’s surface.

UV-B is absorbed by ozone and as the Earth’s ozone layer has depleted in the last 40 years, UV-B damage is potentially more harmful when it strikes upper leaf surfaces, releasing energy. UV-B radiation can rupture the cell membranes and chloroplast organelles, interrupting photosynthesis. UV-B can cause the plant’s paired strands of genetic material in the DNA double helix to become cross-linked, preventing cell division and other vital cellular processes such as protein production. Damaged leaf tissues can become discolored and die. Generally, healthy plants can grow through the UV-B irradiation damage if it’s not severe. In bromeliads anthocyanins act as stress markers and these water-soluble pigments accumulate in the vacuoles of the epidermal or sub-epidermal cells, but possibly in the leaf mesophyll also.

A number of plain green and grey-leaved bromeliad species and cultivars simply will never redden no matter how intense the light exposure—anthocyanins are absent. Their foliage bleaches and may even sunburn, particularly if shifted suddenly from low light positions to maximum exposure. Others at best “bronze up” or turn pink but don’t achieve dark red to purplish-black tones. Other factors influencing the outcome are the day length, diurnal temperature fluctuations, actual daily sunlight hours (minus cloud cover), relative humidity, shade cloth density and colour (60-90% beige cloth enhances red bromeliad foliage in tropical and sub-tropical climates at least) and growing medium nutrients. The modern polycarbonate sheeting (especially opal white colour) is ideal for many bromeliads, not only for its diffused bright light transmission but as winter protection and this UV-resistant roof cover helps prevent leaf-burn in summer. Producing anthocyanic tints may be less attainable under artificial lighting indoors. Regular watering and high relative humidity in all seasons also helps prevent burning, as does adequate ventilation to prevent heat build-up. It’s fundamentally true also that well-nourished, healthy plants withstand excessive solar radiation better than weak, starved or desiccated plants.

It could be perceived that these dark-leaved bromeliads look lifeless either en masse or singly, and, indeed, they can appear somber when shown this way. However, as companion plants in a mixed display or landscape design, these darkies provide the perfect backdrop by contrast and solidarity to forms with lighter-patterned foliage, notably variegates. In artistic arrangements requiring dramatic or bold simplicity, blackish rosettes or leaves can evoke themes of evil and mysticism. Glossy dark foliage in competition entries invariably needs extra cleaning or pre-wiping as invariably grime and salt/lime deposits show up more otherwise.

The preceding “black list” is not exhaustive and some are difficult to group as they change colour and markings according to where and how they are grown. Literally and figuratively speaking, this multitude of dark-foliage bromeliads, often with long-lasting, attractive inflorescence also, vie for a plum role in our collections.

References :
Benzing, David. 1980. The Biology of the Bromeliads. Chapters 4,5,7,8. Mad River Press Inc.
Bromeliad Society International Cultivar Registry Online Database. Website:
Debenham, C. 1979. The Language of Botany. S. Beatty & Sons, Printers, New South Wales.
Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies. Photo Index. Website:
Friendli, Georges-Louis, PgDip, MSc, PhD. Flavanoids. Friendli Enterprises Website:
Julien, Don. 2000. What kicks in the anthocyanins? Seattle Rose Society. Website: http://www.bmi/net/roseguy/redshoot.html
Seigler, David S. University of Illinois. Flavonoids and Related Compounds. Website:
Sullivan, Jack. Anthocyanins. Website:

By Chris Larson

(From the Bromeliad Society of Victoria’s Bromeliad Newsletter, October-November 2003 Vol. 20 No. 5)

Most bromeliad species reproduce themselves vegetatively (by offsetting), which gives them a greater chance of survival than if they relied only on seed. When you consider that for the seed to grow in the wild successfully, even if it is viable, it needs to land in a satisfactory place and then get the right climatic conditions to grow into a mature specimen. Seedling plants in the wild would find it hard to tough it out in adverse situations such as droughts. Of course it would be of advantage to most species for the plant to evolve with a backup mechanism such as offsets. There are some species that either die after flowering, or continue to grow, i.e., not producing offsets, but these are by far the minority of bromeliads. However, this article is only concerned with those that offset, or, as offsets are more commonly called, pups.

There are many advantages of reproducing plants vegetatively in your collection, as there are advantages in growing from seed. Firstly, when growing from seed you are not ever sure of who the father is until the seedlings have matured. Secondly, the seedlings may damp off, and unless you have kept an offset, you have lost the plant. Thirdly, some hybrids are sterile, and some species need another clone to pollinate it, so seed is not always the way to achieve your aims. Fourth, mutations or particular cultivars are usually only reproducible by vegetative reproduction.

At this point I feel it is necessary to bring in the subject of apical dominance, which is present in varying degrees in bromeliads. Apical dominance is the principle where the plant will allocate the best resources to the highest point of the plant. To achieve this the plant produces auxins which inhibit the growth of offsets, seemingly in an effort to give free reign to the main plant without having to support offsets. Only when the plant has a damaged growing tip, the growing tip has turned into a flower, or there is a sufficient shock to the plant’s usual growing environment does it stop producing this auxin to allow the production of offsets. To put it basically, offsets are produced by most bromeliads when the growing point turns into a flower or has been removed. Then the dormant buds at the base of each leaf become stimulated because the plant can’t grow from the apex any longer. Many of you will know of plants where apical dominance does not seem to apply at all. For example, Tillandsia kirchhoffiana pups prolifically, but seldom flowers. (Some plants do not produce pups at all, and others only produce pups in their seedling stages—but that will be discussed later.)

There are a number of types of offsets:
- Basal offsets. Most bromeliads produce these offsets directly from the base of the plant.
- Stoloniferous offsets. These are produced on stems from the base of the plant. They often make good hanging basket specimens.
- Central pups. Some plants offset from the centre of the cup, making it difficult to remove them without destroying the plant.
- Adventitious offsets. Produced out of unusual or abnormal places, such as some roots or buds, or from stems or leaves. Most commonly this refers to seedling-like growths that are common on such bromeliads as most species of alcantarea and some species of tillandsia.
- Viviparous offsets. These are produced from either the scape bracts (flower stem) or from the actual inflorescence.

Prior to discussing the motivation for taking the pups it is necessary to look at what I call the one-third rule. This is a commonly held belief that a plant should be left on the mother plant until it is at least one-third the size of the mother. It works on the assumption that a plant needs to have gained a degree of strength before it is removed from the mother and I think as a general rule it is good to abide by, though there are exceptions. If the plant reaches such a size it is more likely to grow more vigorously in its new pot than if it was taken off smaller. When the pups have formed the decision on when, or, in fact if, you should remove them is dependent on what you wish to achieve.

Some aims which might lead you to remove pups are:
Single Specimen: Usually for plant competition, and often for plants such as the majority of non-stoloniferous neoregelias, people prefer them as single specimen plants. This is due to an opinion that the shape is at its best when solitary, or, in the case of competition, due to the rules.
To achieve the best results it is necessary to remove the plant after it reaches one-third of the parent’s size, and before it gets too big—i.e., before it is too distorted by growing beside the parent. This will allow it to reach a nice conformation by the time it flowers.

Propagating Quantities of Plants: Some plants are shy to pup. If left to their own resources some plants only produce one or two pups, particularly species, so that you never have a backup in case one dies. Often it is advantageous to remove an offset to put in another spot (where you may experiment with other growing conditions), or give to a friend so that you know where there will be another if you kill the original.
If you mark a plant for harvesting the pups it is important to take the pups off at around one-third size, allowing as much time as possible for the plant to produce more pups. This way, in the couple of years most bromeliads have to produce pups, you will get the maximum number out of them.
Some people think that the first couple of offsets are the strongest, and that all subsequent offsets are weaker and therefore should be destroyed. My experience is that these first offsets get the best ‘kick start’ from the mother, and that is the only reason that they are more vigorous than the subsequent pups. At work, where we have a regular foliar fertilization program, all pups tend to perform equally, no matter where they came in the order of removal.
One of the problems with milking the pups is knowing when to stop. It is best to leave the last pups on the mother, giving them a little more support when the mother is not going to produce any more anyway. I never take a pup off a yellowing mother just before winter or in the middle of summer. Sometimes this backfires on me because the mother dies, taking the pups with it.

Multi-Planting: Some people wish to get a pot full of plants, especially of plants of genera such as billbergia and quesnelia. The way I find to achieve the result more quickly is to separate the pups, then plant them into a larger pot but spread them out around the pot. This way the individual plant’s foliage is fuller, and in some cases makes for a better display. By the time these form individual clumps it looks fantastic.
I find this method is the best one to use to quickly fill a good sized area in the garden.

Hanging Baskets of Stoloniferous Plants: I find that after a couple of years stoloniferous plants often have ‘bald spots’. I regularly take out some of the leads to replace the dying mothers in the middle of the pot, or create a balance where on a side previously the pups have not grown.

Picking Out the Eyes: Often I get a plant which was slow to form a clump, and with the techniques mentioned above I have a small clump but there is still only one lead coming from each mother. In this case I will leave the clump together while taking out each of the leads. The general principle (that I have found) is that even if the plant usually only throws one pup, after you take off the first pup it mostly throws two or more pups. This way your clump gets even bigger and you have some more spares.

When to Take Pups and What are the Right Conditions: Most people will tell you to take your pups in spring, but most people with large collections will remove pups at all times of the year. The trick is to know which ones to do in what I term the hostile months and which ones to only do in the most favourable conditions. This knowledge you can usually only gain by experience. But remember that there is only one way to get to know the limits, so experiment.
I find, as I mentioned previously, that there are two stressful times of the year—winter and summer. If a plant is difficult to strike, or is cold tender, I will leave it to take either in October to December or March to early April. These I find to be the best times for the plants to settle in before the extremes in temperature hit them. (Remember, tropical plants often find the very high temperatures stressful, too.)
If the mother is green and healthy, and the pup is a good size, then remove it. If the mother is yellowing it may be best to leave the pup on for the reserves of the mother to be passed on to the pup.
If you can provide the right conditions then pups should survive whenever you take them. Some options to try to maximize your chances may be:
- Leave the pup to callous before planting (3 to 7 days—do not allow the centre to dry out). It can be a difficult decision if the pup has come away with roots, as it may be better for the plant to be potted straight away to keep the roots alive; however, you may choose not to water it in.
- In cold months, put new pups in a bright, warm spot. In summer put them in good filtered light in a spot that doesn’t get too hot.
- You may use a fungicide or a rooting hormone. Often rooting hormones are not long-lasting, so that after a short time the only element that works in them is a fungicide. I often use sulfur as a fungicide for bromeliads. Note: Do not use copper based fungicides.
- Use a heat pad, glasshouse, shadehouse, or any other aid you may have.
However, if you are removing the pup from a hardy type of bromeliad and it is a good time of year, these things should not be necessary.

By D.C. Speirs
[From Journal of the Bromeliad Society, January-February 1978, Vol. XXVIII No. 1.]

The genus Tillandsia was named by Linnaeus after Elias Erici Tillandz (1640-1703), a professor at the University of Abos, Sweden. Tillandz was perhaps a minor botanist, best known for making a catalog of plants in the area around Abos, but has come down through history as a notorious landlubber.

As a student, he went on an ocean voyage and was so seasick that he walked more than 1600 km by land rather than take the watery return trip. From that time he was known as Tillandz (also spelt Tillands), which means “by land”.

Linnaeus erroneously assumed the genus Tillandsia was xerophytic, i.e., disliked water, and thus gave what he thought was an appropriate name.


(From Bromeliad Society of New South Wales’ Bromeliad Newsletter of November 2005, Vol. 23 No. 11 which was extracted courtesy Cumberland Orchid Circle Newsletter, Vol. 41 No. 5, May 2005)

Did you know that ordinary household cinnamon powder is a very effective fungicide for orchid plants. Apply the powder directly to the affected part of the plant by dusting heavily.

It also makes an effective spray for fungus control. Put the cinnamon powder into hot water, shake well and let stand for several days. Filter through a coffee filter paper and use the brown liquid as a spray. This spray is also an ideal and effective spray to prevent damping off of deflasked seedlings.

(Surely it would work for bromeliads too. (Alice Williams, Editor, Bromeliad Newsletter))

Kenneth Quinn, New Orleans, Louisiana
(From Journal of The Bromeliad Society, November-December 2001, Vol. 51 No. 6.)
A group of bromeliads of the same species or cultivar is undeniably attractive. If you have any doubts of that, just look at a large cluster of Neoregelia ‘Fireball’! However, by growing together a variety of color, sizes and shapes, you can create a very pleasing effect. Here are a few observations on doing so.

My own preference is to use hanging baskets. Plastic ones are easily obtainable and relatively cheap, but I would much rather use wire baskets with coconut fiber linings. These will eventually rust and the fibre will deteriorate after several years, but in the meantime the plants will appreciate the very good drainage and the wire basket just looks better than plastic. I have seen coated wire used for baskets, and suspect these would be even better. Filling the lining most of the way with a good soil mixture, rich in organic material but draining easily—just as you would use in a regular pot.

The next step is the one that will allow your own creativity. Get together a group of plants and move them around until you get a grouping that is pleasing to the eye. It’s a good idea to have a focal point, such as a large plant in the centre, and surround it with small plants that have different leaf colour or shape. A large vriesea with unpatterned leaves, surrounded by small neoregelias with speckled leaves, would be such an example. Don’t be afraid to crowd the plants—a dense group is better than bare soil. Once you are satisfied, put the bromeliads down into the soil and top off with additional soil. If you are using coconut fibre lining in a wire basket, you may want to place some of the more mesic Tillandsia species, such as T. polystachia, into the top of the lining. More xeric species of Tillandsia can be tucked between the wires and the lining.

Consider using some plants other than bromeliads in the mixture. You may want to plant Syngonium, Pothos, or some other vining plant near the edge and let it drape over the edge—this can have a very beautiful effect, and the contrast is pleasing to the eye. Hoyas also vine, and unlike most other vines do not need frequent trimming. Among the epiphytic cacti, try Rhipsalis and Hatoria; they like the same soil and treatment as bromeliads and have a very different texture. I do not use Christmas cactus or Easter cactus; they both want a dry period which conflicts with the needs of the bromeliads. I have not seen any ferns that I think blend well with bromeliads, but I have had volunteers start up in the baskets from spores. They are invasive and I do not let them stay.

By John Killingley
A recent ABC Report (Green thumbs, sharp mind., by Peter Lavelle) showed some encouraging results from a 16 year study (by Australian and Israeli researchers) of a group of senior Australian men and women.
( )

Dementia in the study group was reduced by various factors. There was a 36% lower risk of dementia in those who did some gardening every day—probably because gardening requires both physical and mental activity.

Other good news in the report suggests that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol also reduces the risk (by 34%) of dementia!

So, nothing wrong with sipping a “little red” while potting up those bromeliads!

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Updated 30/04/06