Tillandsia chartacea and I. . . . . . . . . . by Derek Butcher.
From J. Brom. Soc. 1990 #4
This story starts with me as a pseudobotanist studying Cactaceae genus Copiapoa in the 1970s. This group of plants comes from the coastal areas of the northern portion of Chile close to, if not within, the Atacama desert where rainfall is virtually nonexistent and plants survive on mists created by the Humboldt Current. Growing this genus of plants in Adelaide was a challenge because in Adelaide there are hot and dry summers, cold and wet winters, and very few mists. Further, because importation is not encouraged, seed raising is a popular way of increasing your plant collection.
These endeavours with seed led me to write to Karel Knize, a German-speaking expatriate Czech whose base was Lima, Peru, but who rode the barren wastes on a motor bike collecting seed. The seed I purchased was fresh and germinated well. In broadening my outlook from cactus I found that other plants grew in that arid area, in fact, some grew on plants and some in sand dunes with apparently no root systems. Oddly enough, as my interest turned towards tillandsias so too did that of Karel Knize. Cactuses could be grown from seed with a bit of trial and error so why not tillandsias? My optimism was jolted and although to this day I still try tillandsia seed I cannot say that my success rate has been encouraging.
In 1978 I took the plunge and imported tillandsias from a cactus expert into a country where the quarantine authorities were just getting accustomed to tillandsias. Trying to work out names was an interesting project. I still have unnamed species yet to flower and species that seem to key out halfway between known species; for example, one with flower structure of Tillandsia paleacea and plant structure of Tillandsia purpurea.
I also had a plant named Tillandsia multiflora that under my conditions became caulescent, so much so that I believed I had a large form of T. cauligera. After all, T. multiflora was supposed to have no stem, as such.
On and on the plant grew and then suddenly a flower spike emerged and grew at a similar rate. It, too, didn't seem to know when to stop but eventually did and after some agonising few weeks decided to flower.
It was not Tillandsia multiflora or T. cauligera or even a large form of T. latifolia. In disgust at my lack of naming prowess I removed the required portions and sent them to Harry Luther for naming.
Back came the reply: Tillandsia chartacea. With immediate referral to Smith & Downs I was able to confirm. How could I have missed this when working diligently through the keys? How could I have missed this when I gave up on the keys but read every species in the book?
Tiliandsia chartacea was named by Dr. L.B. Smith in 1951 for its papery floral bracts. The plant is short-caulescent, flowering nearly 1 meter high. Leaf sheaths are elliptic to 8 cm in length with the blades narrowly triangular to 3 cm in width, all densely silver lepidote. The scape is erect, the upper portion red. The inflorescence is pinnate, petals linear, erect to slightly spreading, obtuse; white with dark pink H.E.L. says that the petals look purple in the photo; stamens included.
There are two recognised varieties, one from Colombia named variety chartacea. The other, from Peru, is named variety peruviana with no reported sightings in Ecuador. I assume that Knize's range of influence would more likely encompass Peru than Colombia and thus mine is more likely to be the Peruvian variety.
This is a vigorous species growing well in Adelaide conditions with a little protection from the sun. It appears to enjoy the cold, wet winters, which are its main growing period. After flowering it offsets profusely producing a new plant from virtually every leaf axil. It has certainly found one ecological niche here in South Australia.
Note added 1996
In An Alphabetical list of Bromeliad Binomials 5th Edition April 1996 we first saw T. chartacea v. peruviana being considered a synonym of T. queroensis. This was confirmed in De Rebus Bromeliacearum II in Selbyana 18 (1997). At the same time I imported this alleged Tillandsia multiflora (now a Racinea) I had a similar looking plant which turned out to be Tillandsia cerrateana which also comes from near Chiquian in Northern Peru. There is a great chance that Knize collected both plants in this area. I have, therefore, changed the name on my plant to Tillandsia queroensis.