Blooming bromelliads

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Vrisea cultivar in bloom now

A wander in my garden this week revealed that quite a few of my bromeliads are in bloom, which was a nice surprise. They are sometimes unpredictable in their flowering times, perhaps responding to weather factors. I enjoy the sculptured and unusual inflorescences of all of these plants, and many last a very long time on the plant, giving colour over a long period. Bromeliads would earn their keep by their sturdy and decorative foliage alone, so the flowers are a lovely bonus.

Aechmea fasciata

The shock-headed pink flowers of Aechmea fasciata have been out since January this year, and every time I pass them (on the way to the chicken pen!), I stop to admire their bold form above their vases of banded silvery leaves. I have them growing beneath pink-flowered Justicia carnea and Justicia brasiliana (both shade-tolerant plants), with one of my pink-leaved rex Begonia nearby, and the combination has been pleasing for many months now. I find this bromeliad slow to increase, so I bought a few to make a clump.

Aechmea gamosepala, right, with Ruellia macrantha

On the other hand, Aechmea gamosepala expands at a great rate every year! Originally given to me as a single pup by my erstwhile neighbour, who had brought it with her from her previous inner-city garden, it has quirky, cerise-pink flower-spikes with blue tips, like a cluster of surreal matchsticks, which last for a considerable time. In some years, they appear in winter, but this year mine have started blooming in May. I have always liked the combination of this plant with the identically coloured Ruellia macrantha that also comes out at this time of year; however, this year it is growing right underneath a chance seedling of the autumn/winter-blooming Salvia gravida - one of the taller-growing Salvia, which also has flowers of the exact hue of this Aechmea. The seedling also showed the good sense to place itself right next to a tall Camellia sasanqua that is providing support for this rather lax plant. Elsewhere in my garden, I have planted some of this Aechmea beneath a blue-flowered Salvia rubiginosa, which also flowers in the cooler months and I am looking forward to seeing how this combination works out. This bromeliad makes a good groundcover.

Aechmea weilbachii

Yet another Aechmea - Aechmea weilbachii (ht 60-70 cm) - which also makes a good groundcover, is just coming into flower now. This has a bright red stem with red-bracted, lilac-purple flowers that are like strange beads. It multiplies well and I have placed it in several shaded garden beds where I grow red flowers that bloom in autumn and winter, such as Abutilon.

Billbergia species, possibly B. vittata

A lovely and unusual Billbergia from my mother's garden (possibly Billbergia vittata) flowers on and off through the year, and is sporting some of its large, curved blooms at the moment. These have pink bracts and purple flowers, which are not long lived but are very attractive whilst they are out. The foliage is silver and marked with darker bands. It quickly forms clumps and I have been able to give away a number of these over the years to other gardeners. I grow it beneath a silvery-trunked birch tree in my garden.

Vriesea cultivars in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

I have noticed that several of my Vriesea hybrids are also in flower at the moment. These are generally quite compact little bromeliads (ht 20-30 cm) and have a thick, feathery flower spike that looks like it is made of some sort of plastic. Various colours can be obtained, including yellow, orange, burgundy, red, pink and purple. Some varieties include several colours on the flower-spike. Others have interesting foliage as well as the flowers. These flowers last for ages in the garden. They form reasonable clumps over time.

Many bromeliads are perfectly suited to our climate and are an excellent solution to dry, shaded garden beds. A number of them can be grown epiphytically in the forks of trees for an interesting garden feature. They need very little maintenance (apart from dividing occasionally) and look good every single day of the year. What more could we ask of a plant?