I thought we’d start a little new approach of doing a short post on plant of the month and see how it goes. Information has come from a number of sources such as Baensch’s book and some of the local growing guides. We hope you find it enjoyable.
As we progress, we’ll find other things to write about.
The Aechmea, with its many varieties, has been described by Baensch as a plant that offers both hobby gardeners and collectors, a rich selection of beautiful and interesting species and hybrids. With around 250 species and an armful of hybrids, the choices available make it difficult for buyers at any level. Many collectors most probably started their Aechmea collection with Aechmea fasciata as it was a popular commercial plant many years ago.
The name Aechmea is derived from the Greek word Aichme which means ‘spear point’. Some species of Aechmea produce primary bracts which end in long, sharp and spiny tips e.g. Aechmea paniculata (Baensch).
The genus Aechmea has a wide geographical range extending from the Central Americas through to South America and includes the West Indies. Growing temperatures can range from approximately 7°C to 30°C. Care should be taken where colder winters are experienced.
Baensch continues that a considerable number of species exhibit remarkably beautiful and colourful inflorescences that last for quite a long time. Hopefully as a grower, you will have noticed their large, often radiant red scape or floral bracts. Fruits which appear after flowering remain attractive for months.
The shapes are various and include vase like, bottle and tubular forms. All are epiphytic tank-forming plants mostly with broad rosettes of arching leaves, a few are tall and tubular like the billbergias.
The size of Aechmeas vary in size from large plants over one metre in diameter such as Aechmea mariae-reginae through middle size ones (Aechmea chantinii) down to the smaller Aechmea recurvata.
The stately plants generally have wide, strappy green leaves that sometimes appear to be lightly powdered. Many Aechmeas have sharp backward-curving spines along the margins or outer edges of their leaves that can be painful, so be careful how you pick them up.
Foliage coloration ranges… from maroon’s… pinks… reds… silvers… and greens with markings such as bands… marbles… variegated and albomarginata. Although the plants themselves are beautiful, their long-lasting flowering bracts are stunning. Usually pink, they rise above the plant like a spiky crown, with smaller purple flowers emerging after time.
Growing the genus requires no ‘special’ skills. In a pot or tub, use an open mix such as a cymbidium orchid mix and keep it moist. Ensure that the cup does not dry out as this will impact on the plant. Watering frequency will vary depending on season and location. Some plants grow well in trees or on rocks. Once established, minimal care is required.
Aechmeas will grow in indirect light or moderate shade. They like bright light but only some will take full sun. They grow well outdoors with 40% to 65% shade cloth.
Follow basic rules for bromeliads and don’t over fertilize. Fertilize sparingly with a liquid fertilizer during the growing season.
Most Aechmea species produce offsets (pups) on long woody stolons. The toughness of the stolons plus, the spiny leaves makes offset removal a strenuous and sometimes a painful experience. Gloves, long sleeves, and a very sharp knife, hacksaw or even a chisel should be the main tools in your toolbox. It is not essential to remove these pups as many species are attractive grown as huge colonies. The pups will flower in one to three years depending on the species.
Have fun and remember – They do bite!!!
Here are some of the flowers and beautiful fruits which come after flowering.