BSI Journal - Online Archive


Vol. 2May – June, 1952No. 3

Photo by Dr. B. E. Dahlgren
Bromelia Pinguin Linn. Spec. P1.
(See Page 34)


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"How To Grow Rare Greenhouse Plants" by Ernest Chabot is a new and interesting book recently off the press, published by M. Barrows & Co., Inc. (114 E. 32 St., N. Y. $4.00.)

Mr. Chabot has been very successful with many kinds of plants under glass. He is a real enthusiast and has made many records of his successes and failures as an ardent amateur. He has not been too technical but has endeavored to give simple instructions in culture, temperature, propagation and pest control.

Two hundred and sixty different kinds of plants have been treated and while no mention is made of orchids there are four pages devoted to bromeliads.

The book is liberally illustrated with very good photos and many line drawings; it should be a good help to the amateur who has not yet become a real earnest specialist in just one or two families of plants.

Dr. Lyman B. Smith of the Smithsonian Institution has just recently returned from Brazil where he has spent nearly three months of strenuous botanical work in the southern area of that country as well as in the Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo area. Dr. Smith's work has not been entirely confined to the herbarium taxonomical work, but he has done considerable collecting in the field as well. We hope to have something from his pen for the Bulletin in the near future about his latest experiences.

We have a new and most enthusiastic member of the Bromeliad Society, Freddie A. Greenhut, Jr. of Pensacola, Florida. At the age of 13 he becomes the youngest member of our Society.

Freddie first started out with orchids and he has a very nice collection of both species and hybrids. Then, a few months ago, he became interested in bromeliads and now he writes me that he has about thirty species of bromeliads representing nine different genera. His collection is growing so rapidly that he will soon build a larger greenhouse. Since he is an ardent collector, even now at only thirteen he is already wishfully thinking (what we all go through!) how nice it would be if only we could build a greenhouse that would grow and expand as our plants multiply! Already he boasts of having such fine plants as Tillandsia lindenii, Vriesia x Marie, Vriesia scalaris etc. in his well chosen selection of plants.

With a natural talent for drawing and an unusually keen eye for form and color, we predict that Freddie will some day make his mark in the tropical plant world.

Photo by Author
Ronnbergia Morreniana Linden et Andre'


by C. H. Lankester

When I first saw this unusual and unique bromeliad, sent to me by a friend from the wilds of Colombia, I was startled and reluctant to believe that it was a bromeliad because it looks a lot less like a bromeliad than do most members of this great family. Its large blotched leaves with long channeled petioles give it the appearance of a Calathea or some member of the lily family.

This plant grows to a height of eighteen inches to two feet. The dark green mottling on a lighter green upper surface of the leaf is in marked contrast to the glaucous or blue-green under side; the margin or edge of the leaf is entirely destitute of spines. The flowers are in a dense erect spike; the petal tips are violet.

The genus Ronnbergia is a small one; it was discovered and named in 1874 by Edouard Morren. It had been first introduced into cultivation by Linden in 1873 and was described in 1877 from a plant flowered by William Bull. The first species was named by Linden and Andre in honor of Edouard Morren.

–Las Concavas, Cartago, Costa Rica.

Editor's Note–

We are pleased to know that the rare species, illustrated above, is still in cultivation and we hope it will thrive under Mr. Lankester's care.

On my expedition in Colombia in 1946, I collected plants of this R. Morreniana, also R. maidifolia, and R. Colombiana. The first two were killed by fumigation at the Port of Entry. Fortunately one of this rare genus, Ronnbergia Colombiana survived to augment my collection. It is an aechmea-like plant with heavy spines on the leaf margins of the very striking plum-colored foliage.


by Mulford B. Foster

On our first really major expedition for bromeliads in Brazil in 1939 we discovered, quite by accident, that most of the epiphytic, broad-leafed bromeliads could not tolerate certain chemicals, especially copper.

A rather important aspect of collecting is the proper numbering of each plant correlating to the number in the collection book where location and descriptive data is written in detail. It has always been a difficult problem to attach collection numbers so they would not be lost during transportation and the fumigation processing upon entry into the United States. Cheap, but fragile paper or cellophane tags proved to be easily torn off and the written numbers soon faded, so I decided on a metal tag which had, unfortunately, a copper wire for attaching to the plant. I wound this wire around the tough caudex, but also, in many instances where plants had wide leaves, I pierced the leaves with these copper wires and thought the tags were certainly secure. In nearly every instance except in plants with the stiff, xerophytic, terrestrial plants such as Dyckias, Hechtias, Ananas, etc. the leaves soon showed injury and the infection traveled the length of the leaf, often rendering the entire leaf worthless, and what was more, we lost the important numbered tag. I changed my method after losing several records, and now instead of the copper wire which the bromeliads could not tolerate, I use an aluminum band to wind around the base of the plant.

The potency of even a small amount of copper was shown when a copper tack accidentally dropped into the leaf cups of a bromeliad; it burned a hole through several layers of leaves; if it is dropped in the heart of the plant it might even kill the entire plant.

My next experience in learning about the detrimental effect of copper on bromeliads was when one of my men sprayed some nursery plants with a copper sulphate solution. I lost hundreds of bromeliads which were near the sprayed plants.

The same fatal result was caused when we sprayed a number of nursery plants with a solution containing arsenate of lead. It was a very windy day and the spray was carried over to the bromeliads; our loss was very serious.

A few years ago I used a much advertised product to kill slugs and sow bugs which were injuring small seedlings. To my surprise our loss of bromeliads of all sizes soon after that was a real calamity. The sow bugs ate the material and then went to the bromeliads for water! The result was a great shock to my struggling bromeliad collection. Upon investigation I learned that the killing agent in this product was arsenic. I was learning the hard way what bromeliads could not tolerate.

Another poison that takes a very heavy toll of bromeliads is the methyl-bromide treatment given to plants at all U. S. Plant Quarantine ports of entry to the United States. While orchids and many other plants are affected, bromeliads take a loss in a more fatal form than any other plant family with which I have had any experience. The broad, shiny leaf type of plants such as Vriesias, Guzmanias, Tillandsias and any of the more delicate species of Aechmeas and Billbergias are very susceptible to this "death-chamber" gas treatment. It is not uncommon to lose fifty percent or more of the treated plants when importing them, and almost never is there a bromeliad which comes through uninjured. Many of the injured plants are one and two years recuperating from the Quarantine Station treatment.

Even so simple and frequent an occurrence as water dripping from galvanized pipes or wires in the greenhouse will cause serious injury and often death to a bromeliad. It is the zinc from the pipe which bromeliads cannot tolerate. And this intolerance has been used to advantage in destroying bromeliads.

Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss) and T. recurvata, (Ball Moss) are two bromeliads that have been considered pests when they grow in such profusion as they do in parts of Florida and other southern locations. There is a great difference of opinion as to whether the Spanish Moss is beautiful when draped from the trees or as to whether it is a detriment and a pest. Most people believe it to be a parasite and are convinced that it kills the trees ... that is, of course, erroneous. We do know, however, that it will grow vigorously in a tree that is in poor health as there is less foliage to shade it out. It also grows profusely in the coastal deciduous trees such as Taxodium commonly called "Bald Cypress".

In cities such as Orlando, Florida, where the moss grows in great profusion, much money has been spent to de-moss the thousands of live oak trees that line the streets and grace the lawns of private dwellings. Many residents too, are either very strongly against or in favor of, the "unsightly" or "beautiful" tree drapery that decorates their trees. Good tree climbers and de-mossers are scarce and expensive. It has not been uncommon for a crew to charge from $25.00 to $50.00 to de-moss one of our large live oak trees and even then the moss is eliminated for only three or four years at best. This epiphytic bromeliad is tenacious of life; it has an indomitable will to live. One little section of moss left hooked on bark or branch soon grows to be a festoon.

Now, in this instance, instead of trying to find a way to prevent death to a bromeliad a way has been found to kill them. The Davy Tree Expert Co. having spent many years preserving plant life has now become interested in eradicating the Spanish Moss and through experiments of Mr. L. V. Newton, the local representative of the company, at Orlando. Florida, they have finally perfected a formula that is quite efficacious in this project.

The trees are now sprayed by a high-powered sprayer with a solution of 150 gallons of water and four pounds of arsenate of lead. This will give a complete kill if every section of the moss is hit and in four weeks there are no signs of life in the moss, although it may be several months before the dead strands have completely fallen or been blown from the trees. Care must be taken at the time of spraying and it should not be done at the period in the spring when the new young foliage of the trees is appearing, as this strong solution would burn such tender growth.

For this de-mossing process a solution of Sulphate of Copper-Neutral may also be used in a like proportion, but death is slower and it generally takes three months for a complete kill.

In a recent article in our local newspaper, The Orlando Sentinel, the following appeared: "As Spanish Moss is a striking part of the Florida landscape and does little or no damage to trees, Dr. George Weber of the University of Florida College of Agriculture is in favor of leaving it alone." "To persons asking for suggestions on ridding trees of moss, the plant pathologist invariably replies that the aerial plant does little harm but an arsenate of lead solution will kill it."

That the moss does little or no damage to our Florida trees has been my conclusion ever since I came to Florida in 1923. The oldest native tree on the Atlantic Coast, "The Big Cypress" Taxodium distichum which lives just a few miles north of Orlando, is estimated to be over 3,500 years of age; it is covered with moss-and if moss kills trees as many people state, then it is taking quite a time to kill this grand old monarch of the forest.

It is very important to know what is best to keep bromeliads alive, but it is equally important to know what is fatal to them. While most of our experiments have been along lines of research as to what is most beneficial for their well being, we have learned that there are at least four mineral elements that are quite toxic to them, copper, zinc, arsenic and lead, so we should make every effort that these elements do not come in contact with our bromeliads.

Cut contributed by David Barry, jr.
Bromeliads In An Outdoor Garden Room


Gerda F. Cook

Perhaps the most stunning exhibit of bromeliads holding the "lime light" ever made was that of the California Jungle Gardens at the International Flower Show at Los Angeles this past March.

Most bromeliad exhibits have shown these beautiful plants either in a naturalistic setting or as specimen plants but Mr. David Barry, V. P. of the Bromeliad Society, has shown the possibility of using these stunning bromeliads as a decorative feature in a modern Garden Boom.

Mr. Barry used eighty striking specimens of Vriesia splendens and six plants of Portea petropolitana var. extensa and every one of these plants he has raised from seeds.

The multi-sectioned frame was painted a rich black-green to match the zebraic stripes of the Vriesia leaves. The inner frames around the six portea plants were finished in Chinese red contrasting nicely with the lettuce green of their leaves. The only other plants used in this formal setting were six Chamaedorea palms, a rare variegated banana and a Dioon spinulosum.

The spun wire ornament on the low table, representing a pineapple was most appropriate and effective in this setting where the pineapple family, bromeliads, were the dominant note.

Vriesia splendens, sometimes called "flaming sword" has been known for over a century. Originally collected by Aublet in French Guiana it was introduced into cultivation by Leprieur and Malinon in 1840 and has been a sensation ever since. There have been few bromeliads introduced into horticulture as striking as this species but it is still rarely seen in private collections in this country.

Most vriesias take from five to six years and some many years more, to reach the mature blooming stage from seed and this accounts for the fact that they can never be as commonly used as are billbergias, aechmeas, etc. To add to this slow process of propagation this species is one of a group of vriesias that does not produce offshoots on the side of the plant after the flowering period as do most bromeliads. Therefore you cannot increase your stock from asexual growths. The new shoot appears after the plant has flowered, not on the side but near the center in the axil of one of the leaves, thus, the old leaves gradually dry off as the new head develops. The transition does not materially mar the appearance of the plant but you will still have just one plant. When in flower it is a breath taking plant experience.

One of the greatest virtues of the bromeliad family is that these plants may be very decorative whether in bloom or not and they can be used in the most formal or casual setting. In your home or greenhouse or your deep-south garden patio they add a note that gives a touch of the unusual. In this exhibit of Mr. Barry's not one of the eighty-six plants were in flower, yet the decorative effect could hardly have been equaled by the use of any well known flowering plant common to horticulture.

Santa Monica, California.


Racine Foster

In our boundless enthusiasm for bromeliads concerning their decorative and horticultural aspects we bromel fans are apt to forget the more practical and useful side of this versatile family.

Since man is quite susceptible to anything gastronomical let us consider first some edible bromels, most famous of which, of course, is the pineapple, Ananas comosus. We need hardly be reminded of the extensive use of this delicious fruit with its innumerable horticultural varieties, some weighing twelve to fifteen pounds; there are wild species, some so small that they weigh but a few ounces. Their fruits may be tender, stringy, hard as a nut, sweet or sour. All make interesting species, but, only A. comosus has been commercialized because its varieties suit our selective palates best.

We are finding that the pineapple can serve man in other ways than food. From this glorious fruit has come, in recent date, an extracted substance appropriately called "Bromelin" effectively used as a diuretic or purgative on intestinal parasites. Conrad F. Asenjo suggests in his paper* that fresh juice of the pineapple could effectively be used as an anthelmintic in Brazil and India where the native population is burdened with intestinal parasites. This contribution to medical science from the common pineapple adds prestige as well as more utilitarian possibilities to this family.

This discovery is not too surprising since the native population in the West Indies has already considered fresh pineapple pulp as well as juice from the seeds of Bromelia pinguin as a vermifuge. Senor J. P. Carabia in his "Las Bromeliaceas de Cuba" says that the juice of fruits of B. pinguin has been used with success as a vermifuge in Cuba.

In Puerto Rico the young inflorescence of Bromelia pinguin is used as a vegetable; it is of good flavor and quality, prepared in various ways.

My husband found that in Bolivia and Argentine, Tillandsia maxima, a very large species, and Tillandsia rubella, are used as fresh vegetables eaten cooked or raw as we eat celery. The local name for both is "Horka." The tasty tender heart of these bromeliads is similar to and a rival of, the palm hearts so choice a food in South and Central America.

Puya hamata, living on the high paramo areas of southern Ecuador, is the source of a sweet drink, "jugo de aguaronge" which is extracted from the tender leaf bases which form the heart that later develops into the flower head. Just before it appears the center is dug out and a sweet juice collects in the cup thus formed, very much as the pulque is collected from the Agaves in Mexico. Also the tender Leaves of this Puya are eaten as a cooked vegetable.

The Arahuaca Indians of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta eat the tender heart and leaves of a Puya, which is called "Besa." They not only gather it wild but also cultivate it in their gardens.

   Photo by M. B. Foster
Aechmea bromeliafolia
In remarks about bromeliads which he collected in Ecuador Dr. W. H. Camp (Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden Vol. 8, No. 1) says that Puya gummifera, found south of Cuenca, is eaten by the common people in the belief it is good for the kidneys. It is also fed to domestic animals.

In this same paper Dr. Camp has noted that the roots of Pitcairnia pungens, found on the western escarpment of Chimborazo, are ground up and cooked for use as a diuretic.

In northern Brazil, leaves from Bromelia laciniosa, natively called "Macambira," (and is a source of fiber, also) are boiled for extracting a starchy substance which when dried is used as farinha, a widely used flour very rich in calcium.

Undoubtedly there are numerous other bromeliads used as food or medicine among the natives of Latin America and it is hoped they will come to our attention in further study.

Tillandsia usneoides has a dual role in service to mankind, primarily as a fiber (which will be discussed later under that heading), but also as the little known possible use of this amazing plant in surgery.

Here and there in the West Indies we have heard that this tillandsia has been used to make a styptic ointment for the purpose of stopping bleeding. The chief styptics are alum, tannic acid and salts of minerals and undoubtedly tillandsias contain some of these properties in their fuzzy leaves. This native use has been more scientifically applied.

In the Feb. 9, 1944 "Staff Meetings of the Mayo Clinic" which Dr. C. W. Mayo was kind enough to send us we learned that the absorptive qualities of Spanish Moss for use in surgical dressings had been investigated with interesting results. ". . . . the dried moss will retain its absorptive power better than a substance like cotton, as the liquid taken up is stored chiefly inside the leaves and cells, instead of merely being held between adjoining strands." . . . .Florida moss will take up from six to ten times its dry weight of water."

Although the availability of cotton has not made it necessary to use the Florida Moss as surgical dressing it was in view of possible supply blockades in time of war that this investigation was made.

Among useful bromeliads we find yet another service rendered, that from Aechmea bromeliafolia, at one time called Billbergia tinctoria from which a dye was successfully made, and used by the West Indian natives. This dye was made from the yellow fluid which is extracted when the main stem of the plants is crushed.

(to be cont.)


* Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, Scientific Edition, Vol. XXLX No. 1. Jan. 1940.


Aechmea bromeliaefolia (Rudge) Baker

This bromeliad was first discovered by Rudge in 1805 in Dutch Guiana; he named it Tillandsia bromeliaefolia. Seventy-eight years later, in 1883, Baker named it Aechmea bromeliaefolia; however, in the meantime it had been placed by different botanists under the following generic names, Macrochordium, Hoiriri, Billbergia and Bromelia.

A. bromeliaefolia is one of the most widespread of all the sub-family Bromelioideae. It is found growing natively from Guatemala to Venezuela, Trinidad, the Guianas, Brazil, Paraguay, Argentine and Bolivia. The writer has found it growing in many of these countries and it varies in plant form, leaf form and color of flowers. The petals are generally yellow but in some areas of Brazil, pure white. I have found it growing on the ground in masses spreading on long stolons and in other areas high on rocks or in trees.

Whether the flowers are yellow or white they will turn brownish the second day and later carbon black when dry.

Ae. bromeliaefolia is very decorative with its pear-shaped form and quite colorful with its rose-pink bracts. It is quite worth while as a collector's item, although it has never been very common in horticulture in this country.

This species has been listed in European collections as Aechmea tinctoria and Billbergia tinctoria and has been sent to this country under one or both of these names which have now been placed in synonymy.

Bromelia pinguin Linn. Spec. Pl.

This is a very common plant growing in Mexico, throughout Central America to Venezuela and most of the islands of the Caribbean. It was known under the name of Karatas by the Indians in Brazil and in the Guianas by Karwata. Bromelia pinguin has been used for several different purposes by the natives and thus has been known under many different names such as caraguata.

Possibly the first attempt at a botanical name was in 1770 when it was called Ananas americana sylvestris altera minor Plnk. Beer called it Agallostachys pinguin; Miller used the original Indian name in Karatas pinguin, while Gaert went back to the first botanical attempt and called it Ananas pinguin.

There are several other species of the genus Bromelia which are found growing in great profusion throughout South America, such as B. serra, B. balansae, and B. karatas. All of them in most of the countries are used for similar purposes such as hedges, fiber from the leaves, and as a vermifuge or drink from the fruit.

These bromelia's most effective use has been, for centuries, and still is, for property line fences. Planted in a shallow ditch along a property line it soon becomes a very effective and prohibitive fence. Although both beautiful and useful, sooner or later it becomes a nuisance, for, if allowed to spread, it will take the whole property, as all the species reproduce on long underground stolons.

M. B. F.


by Charles G. Hodgson

The methods adopted for the growing of bromeliads depend largely upon local conditions and the facilities at one's disposal, such as glass houses, whether artificially heated or otherwise, or suitable out-door conditions. As most of this family grow natively in a warm atmosphere, charged with moisture, I endeavour to create that condition in my glasshouses, particularly in the case of the epiphytes. However, some of the terrestrial varieties grow successfully out of doors, here in Victoria, Australia. The summer months are warm and the atmosphere is dry: in the winter it is wet and cold. I have found, therefore, that the plants need the protection of glass house for warmth in winter. With frequent damping down, during warm weather the glass houses retain proper humidity so necessary for their well being.

The warmth and atmospheric conditions of the glass house are governing factors on the kind of compost used for their successful cultivation. In winter I endeavor, with hot water pipes, to maintain an average temperature of 60 degrees. In summer I rely on the sun upon the glass, which at times, runs the temperature up to 100 degrees. At that time of the season I use the water freely and it is under this condition that my plants grow vigorously and look their best.

In times past my potting mixture was a sandy soil, and I used larger pots than was necessary. Epiphytic bromeliads do not produce much root system, so that the plants were actually over potted, and consequently did not absorb moisture quick enough to keep the soil correct, consequently the soil became wet and stagnant.


For some time now, I have potted my plants in fern fiber with fair results and found that they used to dry out quickly, so I tried some in old tanners bark (Acacia decurrens) and very coarse sand in quantities of half bark, half sand. I found the plants did much better in that mixture, so much so that I now use the mixture entirely. Tan bark has a certain amount of acidity which bromeliads like. The coarse sand gives porosity to the compost.

I grow most plants in terracotta flower pots, from 3 in. to 5 in. I pot the new leads or offsets, taken from the adult plant when about nine inches high. These are potted into three inch pots, filling the pot one quarter full with broken charcoal, coke breeze, or similar material. Then place the offset in the center of the pot and fill up to one half inch of the top with the above compost. Further repotting is done only when the plant becomes so top heavy that it falls over, then I repot into a four or five inch pot, according to the size of the plant. I would rather under pot than over pot in the case of most bromeliads. On the other hand in the case of the terrestrial kind, which make large root systems larger pots are necessary. Some types such as tillandsias, billbergias and those which produce drooping flower heads, as in the case of Aechmea Racinae, I grow in wooden hanging baskets in which they display themselves to better advantage.

Light and Shade

Light and shade, from my experience, are factors which play a very important part in the successful cultivation of these interesting and beautiful plants. In this respect, by experimenting with my plants, I have arrived at the conclusion that those which develop a rather hard and thick leaf such as most of the Billbergias, Tillandsias, Neoregelias, and Aechmeas, the semi-succulent forms need plenty of light close up to the glass, which is lightly shaded to prevent sun-burn from the glass. I have found that this procedure develops the full beauty of the barring and spotting of the above mentioned types and at the same time ripens the plants and ensures better flowering. Apart from the effect of light on coloration, it also has the effect of developing proper growth characteristics. For instance, I have found in some of the tubular Billbergias grown in shade, apart from losing the bar coloring, they grow in an open spreading habit which is not their normal characteristic. The soft, thin-leaved bromeliads, such as Portea, Aechmea, Nidularium, and particularly Vriesia carinata need a shady position in the glass house. Coloration is not affected in such varieties as Aechmea miniata discolor, Nidularium amazonicum, Nidularium striatum etc. I keep the vases of my plants filled with water during warm weather but during winter, in our climate, which is wet and cold, I find it better to keep the plants on the dry side.

7 Dresden St. Heidelberg N. 28, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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