Why should growers consider the first pup the best?
In humans historically the age of maturity is 21, although in those times males stopped growing around 16 or 17 and females a year earlier depending on diet. The modern man is 17 or 18 for males and a year earlier for females. The age of maturity was pegged at 21. This allowed a fighting soldier when he stopped growing four or five years to put on bulk and muscle and be trained. He then could remain quick (and alive) while using offensive and defensive weapons for the length of the battle.
If we accept 21 years for a human to reach their peak and for argument sake, we pegged 21 months as a suitable time for producing a mature Neoregelia (Show not Sale). The varieties of Neoregelias that are large, that is in excess of one metre across, take over two years say 33 months to reach the maturity we are discussing. Accepting this as a starting point, read on and think.
MOTHER NEOREGELIAS AND FLOWERING
Increased day length is usually the accepted trigger that initiates the flowering of Neoregelias. The hormone that produces growth at that growing centre stops and a hormone that produces flowering takes over. The growth hormone that was concentrated at the growing centre of the Neoregelia is distributed throughout the plant and within days triggers a growth eye and a pup is being formed (usually two at a time). Also consider that to get good colour in Neoregelias you are helped by cool nights, warm days and low nitrogen levels. For the sake of the argument, we will select August the first (March in the Northern Hemisphere) as the day that flowering is initiated. By this date, day length is obviously increasing and we have warm days and cold nights.
In the next three months, the potting mix is warmed up, soil bacteria die and break down in increased numbers making the fertiliser (their decomposing bodies) readily available to the Neoregelias. (Keep in mind the initial build up of bacteria reduces nitrogen as it is tied up within the bodies of the increasing number of soil bacteria.) This increased availability of fertiliser is then used by the Neoregelia to finish the growth of the existing leaves and finish off the flower bract.
IS THE FIRST PUP THE BEST?
In pineapples the stem of the pineapple accumulates stored up energy ready for flowering which requires relatively instant energy. I assume Neoregelias could do the same but to a lesser extent, because of the proportion of the Neoregelia plant stem to pineapple plant stem and the requirements of the finished product, the Neoregelia bract versus pineapple bract.
The readily available fertiliser from the decomposing bacteria and the actual fertiliser is being dissolved in the water and sucked up by the plant and used up rapidly in leaf extension and bract growth.
During this stage the new pups are mere pimples on mother's butt. Once all this is completed by the first of December (a nominal date), the fertiliser/growth has only three destinations. First - seed production if any, second - pup production and third (the least important) - maintaining mother.
The leaves only have a finite life expectancy but a poor nutrient supply means mother will suck nutrients from her lower leaves to honour her commitments. This hastens the demise of mother.
What happens if mother runs out of energy/fertiliser in producing the first one/two pups and can't replace energy/fertiliser because it is not readily available and if it has fed off the lower leaves these cannot now function at peak efficiency. It means the quality of nutrients in the first generation pups may be better than that of the second generation. By maintaining mother plants in good condition will result in pups having better quality of nutrients, faster pup production and more pups faster. The discrepancy in nutrient levels would be less.
Conclusion of opinion at the end of part one about "Is the first pup the best?" it is probably YES but not necessarily so.
PREMATURE PUP FLOWERING
Shock can bring a Bromeliad into flower. If the flowering is initiated on the nominated date, the first of August, the pup has six months to ready a mature take-off size. If the first pups are removed on the first of February that has given mother the last three months to devote her full energy to the first pups.
If the second generation of pups come off after the first of June it is best if the pups do not flower but the shock of removal may cause premature flowering. In this case, leave the pup on the premature flowered mother and repot so the new pup is centred in the middle of the pot and to the new pup's advantage. Mother will gradually disappear and the pup will usually not flower the next year and by skipping the first year's flowering form a good plant before flowering the following year.
My opinion is the pups that miss the first year's flowering form the best plants.
GROWING A NEOREGELIA THAT HAS BULK
I am NOT referring to the length of the leaf.
I am NOT referring to the size of the plant.
I am referring to the number of good leaves that the plant can maintain at anyone time.
I am referring to the size of the plant stem both diameter and length.
All pups that miss their first flowering season will be better looking. More time to grow, more leaves and the core of the plant will be bigger.
Here is the tricky bit.
Too much fertiliser - greener plant, longer leaves, more leaves.
Just the right fertiliser - good colour, each row of leaves slightly shorter, this makes a show plant. If you get it just right, a lot of leaves and the old leaves are slowing to deteriorate, in other words, a plant with bulk.