Bromeliads & World's Smallest Orchid Discoverd

Let’s get back to plants this week--specifically Bromeliads; and the World’s smallest orchid flower found in Ecuador!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

December 13, 2009


Above: three shots of Air Plants (Tillandsia), the first from a nursery in Durban, South Africa, and the other two from the Hilo Botanical Garden, Hawaii. Below, One of the most common Bromeliads--Aechmea fasciata (photo courtesy University of Vermont). Followed by two shots of the closely related Aechmea ‘Blue Tango’ growing out-doors in Miami’s Fairchild Tropical Gardens; and a Vriesea also in the Durban nursery. Author photos.

This week, in searching for a topic on which I had not written for a reasonable length of time, I came across the “family” Bromeliads. Here are a few aspects that might interest you about them. Lately I’ve noted a reasonable selection of different genera in many of the garden centres and plant stores.

The Bromeliads, of which the pineapple plant is likely the best known, encompasses 46 genera and around 2,700 species, and so offers great choice. However, most plant retailers restrict themselves to selling two genera--Guzmania and Vriesea. It may be hard to know where to start when looking for bromeliads that are just a bit different.

There are the terrestrial types, such as the hardy Puya or the pineapple Ananas comosus. Then there are desert dwellers, which grow on rocks. And finally, there are the epiphytes, which grow with the support of trees and other structures including the increasingly popular air plants that take moisture and nutrition directly from the atmosphere. The best known of these--the gray-coloured Spanish moss or Tillandsia useneoides--is found draped across trees in the humid states of the south eastern US and down through South America.

In cultivation, Spanish moss is used to filter light in warm greenhouses and as dressing material for mounted orchids or hanging baskets.

Most Bromeliads are sold as pot plants. They may be marketed under trade names or simply as bromeliads. They need to be potted into very porous mixes--usually made up of high levels of grit, sand and crocks as well as peat, bark or leaf mould. Excess moisture in the containers will cause plants' bases to rot. Also, they should be planted with the base of the leaves at ground level or slightly above.

You’ve no doubt seen the epiphytic types at flower shows, and in some specialized shops--Air Plants, often labelled with the botanical name--Tillandsia. They have greyish-green foliage, and many times display exotic fluorescent-coloured pink to purple or red flower spikes and usually with a small mass of roots wrapped in Sphagnum moss. Air plants should be sprayed or misted with soft or rainwater daily when home temperatures are high, reducing to once or twice a week when temperatures drop to 13 degrees C. A low-nitrogen fertilizer can be added to the water every three to four weeks.

Many indoor gardeners have great difficulty getting Air Plants to re-bloom, or even bloom initially. My advice is usually to purchase one that already has blooms or buds on it so you will at least know that the plant is capable of flowering. While a hot or reasonably warm house is needed, the most important factor is a high level of light, which is often difficult to supply during our Canadian winter seasons. Using fluorescent tubes for lighting Air Plants is generally not sufficient during our winters. Other specialized indoor plant lights such as High Intensity Discharge systems are often necessary. Never-the-less, Tillandsias are well worth a try, and be sure to try them in various well-lit, warm areas of your home. Sometimes, the bathroom, because of the high level of humidity is a good location to try them. When trying various different areas, be sure to leave them at least eight to ten months before trying elsewhere.

Once in the home, all potted bromeliads prefer a warm, well-lit location out of direct sunlight and draughts. Watering needs to be done carefully, using soft or rainwater if possible. Some genera are more exacting than others but as a general rule for "vase" types (such as the most common Aechmea with its silver and green vase-like leaves with no stems, and large pink rosette flowers), water regularly into the plant’s “vase” (using warm water if possible) as well as in the pot during the growing season (April to October); use less water during the winter.

Bromeliad rosettes (the entire plants) die off after flowering, but offsets are produced around each. These should be allowed to grow until they have reached half the size of the parent plant, then removed with some roots and potted up. After a year they should be ready to flower.

One trick to stimulate flowering is to put a ripe apple into the centre of the plant, cover the plant with a plastic bag and leave it for three weeks. A new flower is likely to appear in two to four months. Aechmea do well in any house temperature. They grow in filtered to bright light. They prefer to have their ‘vases’ always filled with water. Other common Bromeliads are the Guzmania (green foliage with red flower stocks), Vriesea (green foliage with pointed red flowers) and Neoregelia (variegated green and white foliage with red flowers blending into the leaves). Check regularly at your favourite plant suppliers as new genera and cultivars of the various Bromeliads come in.

* * *

According to the December 3rd issue of the UK’s HortWeek horticultural trade magazine, Ecuadorian botanists have discovered a 2.1mm (.08 of an inch) orchid hidden in the roots of a larger plant. The new species replaces Platystele jungermannioides as the world’s smallest orchid flower.

The find was made by botanist Lou Jost while inspecting a plant collection in the mountainous region of Ecuador.

It is from the Platystele genus and has petals so thin they are transparent and just one cell thick.

The accidental find took place on the Cerro Candelaria reserve in the eastern Andes, which was created by Ecuador’s EcoMinga Foundation in partnership with the World Land Trust in Britain. Dr. Jost, from the EcoMinga Foundation, is one of the world’s leading orchid hunters.

He said: “It’s a very exciting feeling to find a new species. People think that everything has been discovered but there’s much more to be discovered.”

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