The Florida East Coast Bromeliad Society

Next regularly scheduled meeting Sunday, Sept. 12 - 1:30p.m.

Sept., 1999

Winter is on its way! What are you going to do about it?

A little bit of planning now will make the job a lot easier when those freeze warnings are given on the evening news. You don’t really want to be running around covering plants at the last minute now, do you?

President - Jay Thurrott - 904/761-4804

Vice President - Bud Martin - 407/321-0838

Secretary - Bob Roberts - 904/446-8626

Treasurer - Ted Nuse - 904/673-2648


Yes, now is the time to start thinking about the upcoming change in seasons. What do you plan on doing when the temperatures dip into the ‘30s? Bring your ideas to the next meeting – let’s hear them. What has worked for you? More importantly, what has not worked for you in the past?

This month’s meeting

September’s meeting is going to be centered around planting a bromeliad garden. We have an area set aside for us on the west side of the Garden Center building. All we have to do is provide the plants and their names (don’t forget the tags!). We’ve had a request to minimize "the big spiky ones", so please leave the Ae. Disticanthas, Quesnelias and the Bromelia balansaes at home. I picture a planting of billbergias in the rear, a few big nidulariums, some vrieseas, a nice assortment of neoregelias to brighten things up… – I’ll be in touch to see if you would be willing to donate a few plants to the cause. One more thing – don’t wear your good clothes to this meeting, you might get a little messy (at least you will if you do it right).


Many thanks to the Roberts family for putting together the August meeting at the Ormond Beach Art Gallery. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for the meeting, but I hear that the paintings, the surroundings, and the snacks were just terrific.

Dirt’s dirt - isn’t it?

Bromeliads in their native environment generally develop roots to function as "hold-fasts". That is, they serve mainly to anchor the plant to a substrate which in most cases is either a tree limb or rock. The ability of these roots to supply the plant with moisture or nutrients is minimal at best and often thought of as nonexistent in mature plants. There are exceptions to this (the terrestrial bromeliads, like pineapples, pittcairneas and dykias), but generally speaking, the soil under a bromeliad is not the most important environmental factor in its life. It’s often said that the best potting media to use for bromeliads is one the drains well so that the roots and base of the plant are not kept wet for prolonged periods. That’s pretty good advice - so how come if you ask three different hobbyists what potting mix they use for their bromeliads, you get three different answers? Everyone, it seems has their personal preference or, perhaps their own secret mix. The truth of the matter, however is that certain basic ingredients can be found in any mix. These are as follows:

Peat - This is the main ingredient in most commercial potting mixes. Peat is organic material produced by long-term decomposition of plant materials. Hang around and watch it long enough and peat will eventually become coal(if you have a couple of thousand years of spare time). Peat is harvested from many different areas in the world and varies somewhat in appearance depending on the source. All forms are acidic and serve to hold moisture in potting mixes.

Vermiculite - This is a mineral (mica) that is expanded by a carefully controlled heat treatment process. The end product is a multi-layered material resembling a tiny stack of pancakes. Vermiculite is very lightweight and comes in several sizes or grades. Some sources may be alkaline in nature and can contain calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. Mixes using vermiculite may compact with age leading to a media that retains moisture rather than one that quickly drains. For this reason, it is often suggested that bromeliad growers avoid this material in their potting mixes.

Perlite - This is another mineral processed by heat treatment – this time resulting in a white, irregularly shaped, lightweight material. Unlike vermiculite, perlite does not compress in a mix. Moisture retention in the potting mix decreases as the amount of perlite added is increased. Dust can be a problem in handling perlite, so a dust mask should be worn whenever working in a closed space with this material to reduce the possible inhalation hazard.

Poly-beads - These are tiny spheres of polystyrene and like the previous two materials, are both extremely lightweight and inert. Unlike vermiculite and perlite, however, poly-beads do do not contribute to increased mix alkalinity or add unwanted minerals (some sources of perlite may contain fluoride).

Sand - Oxides of silica and virtually inert, sands are available in different grades ranging from fine to course. This will add weight to the potting mix due to the density of the sand particles, but contrary to expectations, sand (particularly the finer grades) can actually decrease drainage by plugging the pore spaces of the mix.

Bark/Wood chips - A logical choice for a potting mix ingredient since many bromeliads attach themselves to trees in their natural environment. Bark is reputed to have antifungal properties and usually is acidic. Both bark and chips add to a good draining mix and are long lasting. In the landscape it is often cautioned that these materials prevent the nitrogen component in fertilizers from reaching plant roots. This is not a problem for most bromeliads since their roots rarely are functional and low nitrogen fertilizers are usually desirable for optimum color development.

Those are the main ingredients of potting mixes. It doesn’t seem like making a mix from a blend of these materials should be all that difficult now does it? But take a look at the shelves of any garden supply store and you will find a bewildering array of potting mixes. Which one should you choose? It all depends on your situation and the plants that you intend grow in the mix. You will notice right away that of all the mixes for sale in that garden supply store none are marked "for bromeliads". It’s just too limited a market for the supplier of the mix. He wants to sell a lot of material to a wide range of gardeners and not just to a few crazed bromeliad enthusiasts. The first thing you should look at then is the list of ingredients on the side of the bag. If you see that a large fraction of the mix is vermiculite, you may want to continue looking until you find one with a comparable percentage of perlite or poly-beads instead. If you have had a problem with your mix staying moist for too long, look for one that will drain more quickly (higher percentage of perlite or poly-beads). If, on the other hand, your mixes are often too dry - look for one with a lower percent of perlite. Sounds confusing? It can be as you compare one commercial mix with another. Sometimes I think that the suppliers want to confuse you - so maybe you should consider mixing your own. It’s cheaper than buying prepared mixes, and it’s certainly simple enough - just buy bags of the individual components and blend them yourself to give you the mix that you feel the most comfortable with. Confidence goes a long way toward ensuring success in many fields and gardening is no different. If you feel confident that you have the right type of mix for growing your plants, chances are your plants will thrive. Someone else may be equally confident with his mix-which is different from yours yet those plants also will do well. So, if they work equally well, maybe you can see why there are so many different variations of potting mixes out there. Loyalty to a particular brand of mix can be very strong and that’s what manufacturers count on. In reality, it’s largely a matter of personal preference and most commercial mixes will do equally well for you-especially if you think that they will work well! On the other hand, maybe there is a secret blend out there that will help grow a prize-winning plant. If I could just find the right one…and then there’s the matter of that "super" fertilizer made from a special blend of secret enzymes, vitamins, and minerals that will produce grapes the size of watermelons – who knows what it will do for bromeliads…

Before you go off searching for some elusive gardening product that sound’s too good to be true, keep that P.T. Barnum quote in mind – there’s one born every minute.


What’s blooming?

This summer has been very good to my garden – those small guzmanias (G. lingulata minor, G. ‘Amaranth’, G. ‘Vella’) are in bloom at the moment. Tillandsia stricta was right on time again. This plant began blooming the same day as last year! I also have two forms of T. flexuosa in bloom – the Fl. form also sets seed each year. Aechmea chantinii and its cultivars are looking real fine – they’re a pain in the neck to keep looking good because they’re so cold sensitive, but the bloom is gorgeous. A few of the smaller Vrieseas are also blooming now: V. rodigaseana, V. triligulata, V. scalaris, V. ‘Polonia’. Anyone have pineapples growing? The fruits are starting to look tempting already, but I know they have a way to go yet before they’re ripe. The Roberts’ report that one of those giant Aechmeas from John Anderson of Texas is in bloom now, but the plant is so big they can’t get close enough to read the tag!

Didn’t see many FECBS members at the Seminole club’s recent "Bromeliad Fantasy" (8/21/99).This is always a nice event and the County fairgrounds is a nice location to hold it – mark your calendars for next year. It’s a great chance to see some beautiful plants and maybe even bring a couple home with you! The Orlando Sentinel had a notice of this event in that Saturday’s paper and then repeated the notice the following Saturday. Hope nobody traveled over there looking for a second "Bromeliad Fantasy".

Have any of your plants set seed? If so, please consider sharing them with the BSI Seed Fund – they are always looking for seed donors. The address to send them to is : Harvey C. Beltz, BSI Seed Fund, 6327 South Inwood Road., Shreveport, La. 71119-7260

Seeds should be clean (please don’t send whole berries – they get to fermenting by the time they are received and the post office sends out ATF agents to check for bootleggers) and labelled.

I’m sure that any contributions will be cheerfully accepted and, in return, you will receive a voucher for some free seeds. You can’t go wrong!

Upcoming Events

Extravaganza ’99 is just around the corner – Sept. 24th and 25th. By now you should have received registration info. in the mail. Those seminar topics look very interesting. Let’s all plan on attending – it should be a good time!

Closer to home – the Seminole Bromeliad Society is having Michael Young as a speaker for their Sept. 19th meeting in Sanford (200 Fairmont Dr.). Michael is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and has conducted seminars and programs at two past World Conferences. He will be speaking on arrangements with bromeliads. This is a little different perspective than what you may hear from a standard flower arrangement designer, so I’m sure everyone will find something of interest. Call Bud Martin at 407-321-0838 for further details.

If you happen to be in the Fort Meyers area – the Caloosahatchee Bromeliad Society will have their annual show and sale on Nov. 6th and 7th at Terry Park on Palm Beach Blvd. in Fort Meyers.

On Nov. 20th and 21st the Treasure Coast Bromeliad Society will have their show and sale. I’ll have more details for you as the date approaches.

Finally, don’t forget the 14th annual World Bromeliad Conference in San Francisco (home of Rice-a-roni, "the San Francisco treat" ) during the week of June 26 – July 5, 2000.