The most popular bromeliad, besides the Pineapple, is Aechmea. They have been in cultivation since the early 1800's and the ease of growing this plant, makes it a great choice for the beginner and novice alike.
Aechmea (EEK-me-uh) is a large genus of about 200 species and all are epiphytic tank-forming plants mostly with broad rosettes of arch-ing leaves, a few are tall and tubular like the billbergias.
Aechmeas not only have a very long lasting inflorescence (flower), but many varieties have very attractive and long lasting foliage (like the A. 'Samurai' above). Many Aechmeas can take full sun... while others require a shaded environment. The shapes are various and include vase like, bottle and tubular forms. The size also varies... from very small, to over three feet in height. Foliage coloration ranges... from maroon's... pinks... reds... silvers... and greens with markings such as bands... marbles... variegated and albomarginata.
Aechmeas need bright light, preferably 3000 to 4000 footcandles (6000 whith high humidity). They can survive with less light but will be weak and may not bloom. Some will tolerate full sun in humid climates, while a few at the other extreme need shady conditions. Bright light brings out the best foliage color in the banded and spotted species. Most will grow well outdoors under 40% to 65% shade cloth.
The hard-leafed species are more cold hardy and a few can take temperatures down to 20 degrees F. with little or no damage. It's best to protect your plants from freezing unless you know that yours are cold hardy. Foliage color fades at high temperatures but no real damage is done. Inflorescence color is more intense and longer lasting at cooler temperatures and lower light levels.
Water quality is less important than for most other genera, but the basic cultural methods are still recommended to prevent spotting and possible leaf tip burn.
Potting & Mounting:
Basic culture for potting. Aechmeas do very well mounted on rough Untreated wood poles or pieces of drift-wood. Those that produce offsets on long stolons are easier to grow mounted than potted since they quickly escape from their pots. In a few years a large colony several feet long will develop if grown on a pole.
Follow basic rules for bromeliads. Don't Overfertilize.
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.
Aechmea "little harv" variegata
This subject is an extensive one, an aspect in which bromeliads are far superior to most other plants in suitable climates. I suspect that most of you read gardening articles and watch or listen to gardening programs.
Sooner or later the subject pops up: What to plant under trees and small shrubs and how to go about it.
The usual advice given is, first dig over and area to be planted (no mention on whether to use a spade or a fork, what kind of rooting system is present and the damage that can be done if there are surface roots.
Second: dig in lots of compost and plant food and;
Third: usually suggestions (some quite extraordinary) for suitable plants to use.
Often, no reference is made as to whether the tree canopy is evergreen or deciduous or has a flowering season. Usually, a recipe for hard work and frequent failure.
What's needed here is straight foreward thinking and some common sense. Think about using plants that don't require nourishment from the soil, if there is any... and that will appreciate the fast drainage provided by the existing rooting system (especially fibrous roots) and that has species and cultivars that will take the varying conditions of sun and shade.
The obvious contenders are epiphytic plants such as bromeliads, orchids, ferns, rainforest cacti, rhododendrons and others. Bromeliads with their wide range of colorful and patterned foliage, and their striking and bright blooms that can be available at any time of the year, provide by far the greatest range and impact. Most are easy to grow if placed correctly. The tree canopy, if evergreen, will provide protection from excessive winter rain in mild areas and/or frost in cooler climates.
*Density of the canopy...
This can be lightened by careful pruning.
*Height of the canopy...
Is it high enough to clear the flower spike or to allow the sun to penetrate under the branches?
*Size of the leaves...
Do they decompose easily; do the have a grooming problem?
*If the canopy is Deciduous...
Ensure that the Bromeliads underneath can stand full winter sun. There is an exception here in that trees and shrubs described as fully deciduous do not necessarily drop their leaves in winter. Most of these exceptions are tropical or sub-tropical plants that shed their leaves before flowering. In the case of Chorisia speciosa, flowering time is usually autum, so it sheds its leaves in late summer.
The Jacaranda flowers late spring/early summer and is in leaf all winter. Others in this category are Bauhinia, Brachychiton, some Cassia, Kowhai and Poinciana. All are showy so that the bromeliads below should complement not compete during the flowering period.
Extra moisture will usually be needed in summer because of the umbrella effect of the canopy. A good hose-down will put fresh water in the reservoirs also.
Usually, just removing old and drying leaves and dead parent plants, so as to allow room for the pups to expand and clump up.
When choosing plants...
Are they to be seen from above or below? Is there enough space to accommodate a mature, well developed clump? Are they suitable for sun, dappled shade, morning sun, afternoon sun?
If only bromeliads are being planted, consider using rocks to define the clumps and add a change to the design. Scoria is light, cheap and weathers very quickly with a little help. Ponga can be used in a similar fashon and tree fern stumps and large pieces of drift-wood can be absolutely stunning. Another use for pieces of ponga and driftwood is for planting both In and On, making a light portable perch for your plants.
For Collectors, hybridizers and enthusiasts... "The Plant" is the thing.
For keen gardeners, the plants are mere components in the total design and:
"The Garden is the Thing."
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