'Aztec Gold' is really the story of trying to produce a desirable plant by swinging the odds in the grower's favour by manipulation of growing conditions.
One day in 1981, a friend of mine found a plant in a group of my Aechmea recurvata plants with a good clear yellow stripe on one of its leaves. The variegated leaf appeared on a fully mature plant that had failed to flower that year. It was the unanimous lament that plants of friends as well as our own had shown partial variegation that had not been passed onto the pups. The low averages to almost non-existent were definitely against success, but with this plant we hoped it was possible as the variegated leaf was low down on the butt of the plant where the pups originate.
After researching the material available, looking for a magic wand I found that there was none, or more precisely, none that I could find. Now was the time to put into action three lessons learnt while observing our plants.
One day while sitting on an old stump, with a shovel in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, trying to get inspiration to clean up and level off our rubbish dump, I noted just how hardy bromeliads really were. There were dozens of discarded plants lying on their sides with their pups happily sitting up ready to grow into new clumps.
Lesson 1: If a plant falls over and then a pup forms, nine times out of ten the pup will start on the top side of the plant.
Like most bromeliad growers with more plants than room, I would take pups off and sit them in a pot of very open mix to keep them upright until potting up time. If you were too long, you would wind up with a solid ball of roots. This resulted in tearing them apart and damaging the roots when potting. Gradually it dawned on me that the root system initiated from one side of the pup, the opposite side from the heel piece that was attached to the mother plant. The rule became: face the round side to the center of the pot. The roots all grow to the outside of the pot and are easier to separate. This explained to me why in a clump of bromeliads the pups are generally grown on the mother plant furthest from the grandmother. I reasoned that the roots on that side absorbed the nourishment and gave slightly more food to that side of the plant. I foliar fed the plants on one side only and this resulted in a very high percentage of pups from that side.
Lesson 2: If you liquid feed a plant by foliar feeding it on one side, you increase your chances of getting a pup from that side.
I remembered one year, there being not enough bench space for all the plants, that some were placed under a bench. Being winter, the sun was low in the sky and light penetrated very well in under the bench as it faced north. Spring arrived and busy-busy-busy then well into summer. Lo and behold! There were the bromeliads with all their pups, like soldiers, facing the path. At that time I thought it was rather convenient for the removal of the pups. Remember light is a source of food for plants and in a clump of bromeliads the outer-side of a plant should be receiving more light than the side facing the clump.
Lesson 3: If the plant is denied light on one side, it will throw its pups on the side facing the light source.
The time had come to bite the bullet. We laid the plant at an angle of 45 degrees facing away from the sun with the leaf with the yellow stripe being on top facing the sun. A few weeks later at an angle of 90 degrees to the yellow stripe appeared a green pup. This pup was removed with a sharpened screwdriver. Our theory was that the pup had started its growth cycle prior to our meddling with nature. Be patient and wait. Success immediately followed by disaster. The pup was there but it was pure yellow. We had only one variegated leaf and the pup was right under it. So all we could do was leave it as an interesting experiment.
A few months later when the pup had grown and we looked and wondered, for there on the upper side of the leaves was a solid green stripe. A phenomenon of this plant is: all pups appear as plain yellow, but as the plant develops the green stripe improves and it turns into a sturdy, vigorous grower for a variegate.
To promote the growth of 'Aztec Gold' we left it attached to its parent. This promoted vigorous growth resulting in a mature plant that produced 10 pups over three years. Any pups appearing on the green parent were cut off so that 'Aztec Gold' received all the energy.
We were aware that with some variegated bromeliads that too much fertiliser had the ability to cause a plant to lose its variegation, for just prior to 'Aztec Gold' we had over-fertilised some variegated Neoregelia seedlings and the variegation disappeared for ever! So this time we took fertilising very cautiously with our original plant. Some variegated plants can take fertiliser and some can't and there are variegated plants that only seem to flourish when they are fertilised well and on a regular basis.
'Aztec Gold' was grown in 170mm hanging baskets potted in a very open mix and hung 18cm from the roof. They had plenty of light and nine-month Osmocote as fertiliser. They were watered regularly, but they were very well drained and had plenty of air movement. The growers who have had trouble growing 'Aztec Gold' are probably giving it too much water and not enough light and air movement to keep up with the watering.
When the pups were taken off the original 'Aztec Gold' they were given the code A, B, C, D, E, F, etc. When plant A threw its pups they were numbered Al, A2, A3, etc. When plant Al threw its pups they were numbered AlA, A1B, A1C, etc. When plant AlA threw its pups they were numbered A1Al, A1A2, A1A3, etc. All this information was written up into a book so you had a complete family tree of the descendants of 'Aztec Gold'. By looking up the family tree you knew what to code the pup and you entered it into the family tree. The plants were kept all mixed up in one area and all watered and fertilised the same.
'Aztec Gold' E2 bred like a rabbit. Its descendants dominated the whole breeding program. For months we looked at "E2" and its descendants but they all looked the same to me and everyone else who was asked. I then separated "E2" descendants and put them on the one bench. It was immediately obvious the central green stripe although it was the same width was a slightly deeper green and the yellow a touch more golden and this made the difference, more food faster and more pups. Pure white is the only colour in a bromeliad leaf that does not manufacture food - from sunlight. Yellow is in fact able to manufacture food as it has chlorophyll in its cells, which to us appears yellow.