by Penrith Goff, S.E.Michigan Bromeliad Society


"Conifer Wildlife Habitat: Arboretum de Concord - Conifers from around the World grown in Michigan"


     One of the best-kept secrets among succulent enthusiasts is the existence of succulent bromeliads. At least that's the impression I get after glancing at a few of the books on succulents. The fact that many writers give them very short shrift-or none at all-probably reflects a certain lack of appeal. Their flowers do not dazzle like mesembryanthemums, there are no elephantine caudexes among them, and as to far-out form, they simply can't compare with the extra-terrestrial denizens of the African desert. Still, they do have an appeal of their own. Hybridizers have been enhancing this appeal, so that there are a number of very handsome hybrids available. In general, they are very tough, drought resistant plants which make ideal houseplants and which (properly acclimated) can be put out in the summer without fear of sun damage. The following paragraphs will introduce a few of major genera.

     Bromeliads began as terrestrials. Most of them, in their struggle for light, moved from the dark forest floor up into the trees or onto open rock where there was no competition. Having adopted this epiphytic ( or saxicolous) style of life, they developed a reservoir or "tank" in the center of their rosettes, in which they stored water from rain to rain. They began to depend more on their leaves than on their roots for the procurement of water and nutrients. The atmospheric tillandsias, the true "air plants," began to use their roots only as a holdfast to bark or stone, some (e.g. Spanish moss) stopped producing roots at all under ordinary circumstances. Some bromeliads to be sure were quite happy with their forest floor habitat. The beautiful earth stars (cryptanthus) flourished in the dank and deeply shaded environment. They did not develop a tank because they didn't need one. One cryptanthus species, however, C. warasii, was forced to adapt to a more rugged way of life. C. warasii survived under arid and sunny conditions that would quickly have killed off any of its rain forest cousins. It adapted by developing thickened leaves ( a tank would have been useless!) in which it could store water and armed it self with teeth to keep animals at bay. In short, it became a succulent.    

     C. warasii typifies the succulent bromeliads. It is a rosette of many leaves spiraled around the central axis, it forms new offshoots in the leaf axils, soon forming a clump. It could be taken for an aloe or agave when it is not on bloom. However, instead of being hoisted on a lofty scape, its flowers are nestled in the center of the rosette like al! cryptanthus. Like C. warasii the succulent bromeliads often resemble an agave, aloe, or haworthia. One difference is in the leaf surface. The scales (trichomes) which produce the silver banding and the often velvety surface characteristic of many bromeliads are found also in the succulent bromeliads. C. warasii despite its tough looking exterior is velvety to the touch. The leaves of C. warasii are edged with well-defined teeth (cf. the fine teeth of its rain forest relatives). The leaves of succulent bromeliads are usually armed, often viciously.

     Unlike their epiphytic relatives the succulent bromeliads develop a prodigious root system and require good-sized pots in order to grow well. Many of them tolerate full sun. Although they are succulent they require a good deal of water during the growing season. During the winter they are best kept, like other succulents, on the dry side at cooler temperatures. Some can get through the winter with no watering but most need to be watered occasionally, especially if they show signs of dehydration. They may be fertilized during the growing period but weakly as with other succulents. Their character is best developed under "hard" cultivation: lots of light, moderate water, little fertilizer.

The following list is limited to succulent terrestrial bromeliad species which can grow under the same conditions as cacti and other desert succulents, often growing in company with them in their natural habitat.

Abromeitiella: Name abandoned. Its four species were reassigned recently to the genus Deuterocohnia (see below).

Cryptanthus: Succulents among the Earth Stars (32 species) are the exception: C. warasii, as described above, and C. bahianus, which, though not as succulent as warasii, flourishes in sun and sandy soil.

Deuterocohnia: Ca.14 species. D. brevifolia and lorentziana (formerly Abromeitiella) form large mats or cushions of small rosettes in the Argentinian and Bolivian Andes. Their tubular green flowers (1"+) emerge from leaf axils. D. longipetala: mat-forming rosettes with 4"-12" leaves, flowers borne on a scape 2 1/2'+ high. Scape, if left uncut, will bloom again in following years (unique among bromeliads!).

Deuter.long.jpg (11617 bytes)

Deuter.brev..tif (231078 bytes)
Deuterocohnia longipetala
(from: Rauh, p.245)

Deuterocohnia brevifolia
(from: Rauh, p.245)

Dyckia. Ca. 121 species. Native to arid regions of Brazil, found also in neighboring countries to the southwest. Winter temperatures down to low 40's. Clump- or mat-forming with small yellow, orange, or red flowers borne on a short scape (but D. remotiflora has a 12"-16" scape). Seed borne in capsules.

Dyckia fosteriana
(from: Rauh, p. 247)

Encholirium:Ca. 29 species native to dry areas in northeast Brazil. Similar to Dyckia in habit. Flowers green or yellow-green. E. spectabile named for its inflorescence, 16" long, covered with 1 " yellow flowers.

Hechtia.jpg (4363 bytes)

Hechtia marnier-lapostollei
(from: B.Seaborn, Bromeliads, p.29)

Hechtia: Ca. 48 species native to Mexico an found also in southern U.S, Guatemala, an Honduras. Inflorescence intricately branchec carried on long stem. Flowers white, greer yellow-green, pink. Blooming shoot does not die immediately after blooming This together with prolific pupping produces large clump: Hechtia tillandsiodes (ca. 12" diam.) has soft gray leaves and like tillandsias (air plants)
no teeth.


Orthophytum. Ca. 24 species native to Brazil, so-named
(ortho+phytum=straight plant) because at maturity (in some species) the stem carrying the inflorescence also bears normal leaves, giving the plant an upright appearane.
O. foliosum 2' high.
O. saxicola does not develop tall scapes. It covers rock with mats of 4-6" rosettes, its white flowers nestled between leaves.

Ortho.jpg (11849 bytes)

Orthophytum foliosum
(from: W.Richter, p 264)




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