Ask for Me by Name

Ask for Me by Name

When the wisteria is in full bloom, hanging off the trees at Calverts,  then you know it can't be far away.  What, you ask?  Why, the spring bromeliad rotation, that's what!  What better way to usher in the springtime, than hundreds of colorful bromeliads.  True, they do arrive every quarter.  But the spring rotation seems special, 'cause some of those babies can do a great job of gracing your outdoor spaces as well as your indoor ones.  And some of them will grow even more spectacular with some sunshine.  Here come the "guzies"!  Here come the "neos", and their other traveling companion!

"Guzie" is short for guzmania and "neo" is short for neoregelia, here at Calverts.  They belong to a family of plants known as bromeliads.  Of course, there are many, many species of bromeliads besides these two.  Sometimes they are referred to as "air plants", because most types derive their moisture from the mists and fogs of the environment, and their nutrition from the organic matter that falls on their leaves.  They can grow at elevations of sea level all the way up to 14,000 feet, in deserts to mountains to rainforests.  Most are native to North and South America, especially Brazil.  They usually grow by attaching to trees  , rocks or other debris, although some grow in loose, well-drained soil.  They can range in size from teeny tiny to several feet tall.   Their textures can be fuzzy and soft to stiff-leaved armed with wicked spines.  One characteristic that all bromeliads share is the presence of trichomes on their leaves.  These are tiny scales that protect the leaves from the sun and from water loss.  The powdery stripes on this aechmea are an example.  The more scales, the fuzzier the texture of the plant.  Some bromeliads called tillandsias are so scaled that they feel like velvet.  Many types "blush" when exposed to bright light  or when they are about to bloom.  Another thing they have in common is that they are monocarpic, which means they bloom once, then make children and slowly die off.  The children will grow to take their place, and will bloom in a year or two.  And on the cycle goes.

Bromeliad history, 101:  You already know about one kind of bromeliad-- the pineapple!   It is the only one used for food; first cultivated by the people of the West Indies when Columbus came to visit.  He brought some back to Spain on his second voyage in 1493.  After that is wasn't until around 1776 that a species of guzmania was discovered and introduced to Europe, followed by the aechmea in 1828, and the vreisea in 1840.  Of course, only very wealthy collectors could afford such exotic beauties.  Hybridizing began in the late 1800's but it wasn't until the 1950's that nurseries in Belgium, the Netherlands, and North America began to do so on a large scale so they could be available and affordable to the public. 

In my previous blog, I talked about how plant breeders name their "plant children" after their own mothers.  Well, with so many endless combinations and colors of bromeliads, I guess they soon had to find other naming rights.  How about favorite color (Violet queen), emotion (Passion), musical genre (Jazz), mythical creature (Zeus), candy (Lollipop), drink (Lemonade, Merlot), or food (Nacho)??  All these names and thousands more have been used to name bromeliads.  If you find yourself all alone with your computer on a Saturday night and need some cheap entertainment, go to a bromeliad website like  Scoll down to the cultivar lists, and you will find oodles of pictures to ogle, with a name and the "plant parents" listed.  Odds are you will find your own name attached to a bromeliad. Some colors are so new they don't even have a name yet, just a number.    This spicy little number is known as "8404"  Then there are the times when the plant breeders must have fallen asleep and a bromeliadian orgy broke out; because the "children" are listed as a name with "unknown parentage".  Scandalous!

Now for the bad news.  Just 'cause you found your favorite color or name doesn't mean it was ever mass produced so that you can buy one.  For whatever reason, they just bred "one" and went on their merry way.  Who knows: maybe its characteristics didn't hold up.  Can't take the heat of a greenhouse?  Doesn't travel well packed in a dark delivery truck for a week?  Flower doesn't last long enough?  Prone to weird blotches and spots?  Rots after it's been out on a job for a week?  You're outta here!  Or more likely, the demand is not there for that color and it would just be too expensive to produce.  Maybe I'll remember to ask that one someday, if I run across any bromeliad breeders.

At Calverts we usually have 4 or 5 species of bromeliads in stock, represented by several cultivars within those species.  These are: guzmania, neoregelia, vreisea, aechmea, and tillandsia.  The guzmanias and vreiseas we carry have thin leaves without spines that arch gracefully away from the plant.  The "neos' and some aechmeas' leaves are usually stiff and spined, but two varieties of aechmeas we carry are spineless.  The tillandsias are usually grey-green and sometimes fuzzy-textured.  (Spanish moss is a tillandsia).  The long-lasting "flower" is the showy part of the guzmanias, vreiseas and aechmeas, but the neoregelia's claim to fame is the plant itself.  While the flower stays short,  the plant will blush in one or more of many colors when exposed to sunlight and in the mood to bloom.   The tillandsias' appeal lies mostly in its' unusual shapes and sizes.    By the way, that group of leaves growing at the top of a pineapple fruit is a new baby pineapple bromeliad growing!

Come in to Calverts to shop for bromeliads, and we will gladly introduce you to our colorful tenants.  Next blog, you'll get to meet some, up close and personal!

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Abbie Wilkerson wrote:
Wow Tami! Tons of great info!!

Mon, April 4, 2011 @ 3:29 PM

2. Jan Humphrey wrote:
Do you have the Katherine crabapple?

Wed, April 13, 2011 @ 10:24 AM

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