Wednesday, 21 January 2009

bromeliads galore

Anyone who steps into my garden will notice that it is dominated by two distinct family of plants; the bromeliaceae and the costusceae. In fact, the former is probably more noticeable not just because of its form, but because they are everywhere; on the frontgate of my house, in the garden and backyard and even on the roof of my car porch.

I discovered bromeliads quite by accident. A friend of mine gave me a pair of Bilbergias, describing them loosely as "blue-chip plants", presumably because they were considered rare and therefore desirable. (whether they could yield any returns has yet to be tested) However, my real interest in the plants surfaced when I bought two fairly large Neoregelias (Cruentas) from Worldfarm about 2 years ago. I found them attractive because they added a new dimension to the landscape with their symmetrical form and brilliant colours. But the real attraction was simply the fact that they were low maintenance and could produce plantlets called "offsets" or "pups" fairly easily. The two Neos have yielded more than 10 pups to-date. Over time, my collection of bromeliads has grown steadily, thanks to the online orders put in by a bunch of fellow bromeliad enthusiasts. Most of these come from Michael's Bromeliads in Florida and they include species of various genera and their hybrids.

Bromeliads have enjoyed a worldwide surge of popularity over the last couple of years, not least because they are easy to grow and have graceful symmetry and flamboyant blooms. In Singapore however, bromeliads have not quite managed to reach the same level of popularity. The ones which you commonly find at the nurseries consists mostly Guzmanias which are little more than ephemeral Chinese New Year decorations that are typically discarded after they fade or the inflorescence dies. Many people tend to be wary of bromeliads purely on the misguided belief that they encourage the breeding of mosquitoes. Hopefully, the opening of the bromeliad park at the new Botanic Gardens at Marina South will educate the public and persuade them to alter their perceptions about the plant.

There are approximately 54 genera of bromeliads, 3000 species and over 6000 hybrids and cultivars. This gives you an idea as to how large this family of plants consist of. The more common genera are the Neoregelias, Alcanteras, Tillandsias, Porteas, Guzmanias, Vrieseas, Aechmeas, Cryptanthus and Dyckias. The most common growth form is a stemless rosette of leaves. The rosette may be exquisitely symmetrical or twisted and curled into bizarre shapes. The foliage ranges from shades of solid green to brightly coloured, spotted or banded. The inflorescences often flaunt dazzling colour combinations as well as fantastic forms. More than half of the species are epiphytes while the rest are terrestrials or saxicoles. The root systems of the epiphytes are normally small and serve mainly to anchor the plants to tree branches or on rocks. The leaves often form a reservoir that collects and holds water; these are called tank bromeliads. The ones which did not hold water, e.g. Tillandsias and Dyckias, usually come from seasonally dryer areas and are adapted to drought conditions. These are known as xerophytic or atmospheric bromeliads.

Some people have asked me what I intend to do with my bromeliads. The short answer to that is to incorporate them into the landscape as nature had intended, i.e. mount them on tree branches, rocks, in the ground etc. The idea really is to re-create as close as possible, a natural habitat for the plants, instead of just keeping them in pots. As for any surplus, I may consider putting them on the market to see if I do yield any returns.

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