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.
The shock-headed pink flowers of Aechmea fasciata have been out since January this year, and every time I pass them , 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), and the combination has been pleasing for many months now. Silvery foliage also looks good with this bromeliad - such as shade-tolerant Plectranthus argentatus - to echo the banding on the foliage.I find this bromeliad slow to increase, so I bought a few to make a clump.
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. The bromeliad flower also matches the autumn blooms of the pretty groundcover Ruellia makoyana, an excellent plant for dry shade. 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.
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 and tall red Salvia splendens.
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.
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 hues 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 with very little soil. They also do very well in pots. A number of them can be grown epiphytically in the forks of trees for an interesting garden feature. I have added a few to my 'epiphytic stump'. They need very little maintenance (apart occasionally watering them with the hose and dividing them occasionally) and look good every single day of the year. What more could we ask of a plant?
Blog originally posted 27 May 2012; updated 16 May 2021.
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