Sandy’s Garden ... It’s a Bromeliad

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

We were invited to join friends at home for dinner recently.

Since they enjoy enlivening their home décor with colourful pot plants, we made the easy decision to buy a house plant to take with us as a ‘thank you for the invitation’ present. The more difficult question was, “Which variety of plant should we choose?” And we opted for the easy answer; we’ll select an attractive, colourful, neither-too-large-nor-too-small flowering house plant which takes our fancy in a local supermarket which usually has a wide variety of pot plants on its shelves.

And that is exactly what we did, our eyes being caught by a vivid red flower with a hint of pale yellow at the tips of the petals in the central cluster of the multi-layered bloom, this single ‘flower’ … I learn that it is actually a bract, in the same way that poinsettia ‘flowers’ are, in point of fact, showy and petal-like bracts … being surrounded by a wrap of dark green, satiny leaves some 8 inches in length, the whole plant in a 3” pot inside an attractive ceramic container. The label stated boldly ‘Bromeliad in Ceramic’ and was within the price range which we were looking to pay. Job done!

But then my curiosity kicked in. So, it’s a bromeliad; and yes, I had heard of bromeliads: but you could have written all I could remember about bromeliads on a postage stamp … perhaps the large size, if I’m kind to myself … and I found myself wanting to know a little bit more. Recourse to an internet library of photographs of bromeliads revealed that the bromeliad we had bought bore a striking resemblance to a particular family of bromeliads called guzmanias. And I am persuaded that this is what it is, although I will not hazard even a guess as to which specific member of the guzmania family it is. My belief that it is a species of guzmania is bolstered by learning that this family of bromeliads is easy to care for, is generally grown for its showy ‘flowers’ and make excellent house plants.

Originally from the southern United States, South America and West Indies, most bromeliads grow as stemless rosettes that can hold water. Many feature colourful foliage and brilliant bracts that keep their colour for months – the actual flowers are usually small and insignificant, for it is the rosette of brightly-coloured bracts which attracts pollinating insects to the plant, rather than the flowers as is the most common arrangement in the plant kingdom. Each rosette blooms only once but can live a year or so after blooming before it is replaced.

The first bromeliads to find their way to Europe were pineapples, Christopher Columbus and his crew being very possibly the first Europeans to see bromeliads; and the delicious fruit of the pineapple plant was a natural souvenir to bring home, where it was discovered that the plants could be persuaded to thrive in glasshouses. It was not until the nineteenth century that European gardeners started to grow other bromeliads, usually because they were confused with orchids and cultivated by orchidists – I’m sure, gentle reader, that you can guess what an orchidist is. The steady improvements to domestic heating arrangements have encouraged an interest in growing showy bromeliads, the usually fairly constant warm temperature and the dry air of the modern house providing the climate that many bromeliads really, really like, although there are species which grow at up to 14 000 feet above sea level and will thrive if they never encounter freezing temperatures.

Finally, I read on the internet, that, “Growing guzmania bromeliads is simple and their unique growth habit and flower bracts will add interest to the home year round.” Yes!