The Tribune - Spectrum


, July 28, 2002
Garden Life

Plant that has travelled from jungles into homes
Satish Narula

Bromeliads are often found lying neglected in nurseries
Bromeliads are often found lying neglected in nurseries

ALL of you may have seen ananas and it will not be difficult for me to introduce you to a group of plants that belongs to the same family. The ananas are a utility plant as their fruit is eaten, though the rosette-like foliage is thrown. In case of its near cousins, the bromeliads, it is not so. Both their foliage and spectacular blooms are valued.

Over the years, while judging leading flower shows, I have come across many new species of plants . Of late, the appearance of waxy spikes of the bromeliads has forced me to think that its admirers are increasing though their number is still small. There are many like the tillandsia, neoregalias, billbergias, aechmeas, vrieses, etc that may confuse a gardener. Do not bother about the miniscule differences between them and leave this for the taxonomists. They can all be broadly classified under one umbrellabromeliads.

Whichever nursery I have visited, I never found the bromeliads on the list of favourites and have mostly found them lying neglected in a corner. Not knowing their actual worth, the nursery men also sell it cheap. However, there are many species which, when provided with suitable conditions, may reward gardening enthusiasts with lovely specimens. The strap-like leathery leaves of the plant are mostly banded or sprinkled with various colours and bizarre forms. In most of the species, the leaves are tightly placed and form a cup in the middle, which catches rain water to serve as a reservoir for the plant.

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A look at the natural habitat of the plant shows that it grows wild on trees in the rain forests as epiphytes, meaning that they use the tree only for anchorage and do not thrive on the sap of the tree. The roots in such cases are well developed and are used by the plant for anchorage. They derive nutrition from air with moisture. At times, they fall down on the ground and form an independent plant. The root system in such cases is not well developed and a hard ball is formed.

You can grow your bromeliads the way you want, either tied to the corky bark of a tree or in small pots. It is a plant that does not even need a pot. Provide a forest floor-like soil, one part of soil and sand and two parts of leaf mould and a little moss. Never use strong nitrogenous fertilisers as these will spoil the plant. Irrigation needs of the plant are also less. You may fill the central cup with soft water or use, preferably stored water. Give a gap between watering and let the soil dry. Excess watering may kill the plant.

Do not remove the insects or leaves that fall in the cup as the plants derive their nutrition from them. Bromeliads are known for the beauty of their foliage.There are species that have longitudinal bands and some have deep yellow or red central heart, especially in the case of neoregeleas. These are very hardy plants . The spectacular spikes have red yellow or white flowers that may die after a few days but the spike, which is the real beauty, lives for months together. The coloured bracts are green, purple, red or yellow, the colour is retained for many months.

Remember, this is a plant that has journeyed from jungles to the drawing rooms of the elite. Thus there must be something special about it. Try and adopt it.