The Florida East Coast Bromeliad Society

Next regularly scheduled meeting Sunday, June 8th, 2003 – 1:30p.m.

May, 2003

Summer is Here!

President Mike Fink – 386/673-5450

Vice President – Linda Stagnol – 386/760-6842

Secretary – Calandra Thurrott - 386/761-4804

Treasurer - Ted Nuse - 386/673-2648


As if you needed someone to remind you! Yes, although the calendar says we still have a few more days of Spring left, a quick step outside my door tells me that Summer is here! You probably recognize Summer too – that’s the time of year when you have more projects to complete than time to finish them...and it drives you crazy! You know, it’s the time of year when you try to make ammends for the bromeliad related chores that you have been putting off throughout the Winter and Spring. Summer is the time of year that you finally get around to separating all of those offsets on your plants…and you discover that you are out of name tags so you put off putting names with the newly potted plants because you’ll remember what they are? RIGHT! You know and I know that you’ll forget those names, so make sure you get to the next FECBS meetings and pick up a fist full of tags before that happens.

This month’s meeting:

For those of you who missed the April meeting – our president reported that he had been contacted by Sugar Mill Gardens in Port Orange. They have asked if we could take a look at their bromeliad collection and give them a hand by cleaning, separating, and identifying their plants and, being the community-spirited folks that we are, how could we say no?

For those of you who haven’t been to the gardens or haven’t been there recently, this place is one of those largely unpublicized "eco-tourism gems" of the area. It’s been around for a while (and by that, I don’t mean the sugar mill ruins – they of course go waaaaay back) since the donation of property in 1963 to the County of Volusia by J. Saxton Lloyd. At one point it was going to be an amusement park of sorts (that explains the concrete dinosaurs) but the park ran into financial problems which kept it from being developed to its full potential. It’s loss as an amusement park has been the area’s gain as a botanical gardens and since April 1988 it has been operated by the non-profit Botanical Gardens of Volusia, Inc.. The very first meetings of FECBS were held at Sugar Mill Gardens before we began meeting at the Council of Garden Clubs garden center, so we have a bit of history with the gardens as well. Plan to meet at the gardens at 1:00p.m. on Sunday and we’ll see what we can do to help out. I doubt that we can complete all the work that needs to be done, but we can get a start on it and, perhaps develop a plan to have some future work parties here. Wear your gardening clothes and bring some gloves and garden shears. We’ll have snacks and drinks, so it should be fun – hope to see everyone there!

FECBS is growing:

You may not have noticed it, but we have been quietly growing at a pretty steady rate over the past 6 months. This is very good news and the sign of a healthy organization. There are a lot of new faces at our meetings and to these new members we’d like to offer a warm welcome! To those members who have been with us a while – please be sure to introduce yourselves and offer a hand to these newcomers. It’s great to see such interest and since we have such a large number of neophytes, it only seems appropriate to begin a series of "bromeliad basics" articles in the newsletter. It’s been a while since we’ve done this and I think even those who have been with us for a while could stand a little review of the basics, so here we go with –

Bromeliads from A to Z:

This month we’ll take a look at the A’s but before we get started - a little Biology 101. When we talk about bromeliads, we are talking about a large group of herbaceous plants (numbering in the thousands) that are members of the Bromeliacea family. This is not a rival gang in the TV show "the Sopranos", but rather a group of plants sharing common general botanical features. What features, you may ask, could Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneioides) and a grocery store pineapple (annanas comosus) possibly have in common? Well, for starters, (1) they both have three petalled flowers, (2) they both produce a single true leaf (instead of 2 leaves) when their seeds first germinate, and (3) they both have adaptive cell structures known as trichomes (we’ll talk more about these later).

Both Spanish Moss and the pineapple are members of the bromeliacea family by virtue of general or broad common features, but obviously they also have some real differences as well. Families of plants can be broken down into different sub-groups called genera, based on some more specific common features and, if you take this even farther, plants that are even more closely related (nearly identical) fall into the category of species. There are somewhere around 52 genera (the plural of genus) in the bromeliacea family, but the bromeliads that we usually see are representatives of only a dozen or so. Bromeliads in each genus share some distinctive features making them easy to identify… and this is where we will begin.


This genus includes several hundred species and a large number of hybrids that tend to have rather spiny leaves – hence the name Aechmea, which is Greek for ‘spear point’. Aechmeas are found in the wild from Argentina to Mexico and in the Caribbean islands. In their natural habitat they may be seen growing in trees, on rocks, or on the forest floor at altitudes ranging from sea-level to over 6,500 ft. Most Aechmeas are epiphytic, meaning that they are found growing on tree limbs in the wild.Fortunately, they adapt well to culture in pots, but many of these plants will do quite well when mounted on a favorite piece of driftwood or rock.

Although there are no Aechmeas indigenous to Florida, a few species have been grown in the landscape for so many years that many assume them to be native. An example of this can be found in Aechmea disticantha (which some claim is so cold-hardy that it can be grown in Alaska!). This is very spiny plant with very stiff, grayish green leaves up to 2ft. long. They tend to bloom in the Spring by sending up a red colored spike that may exceed 4ft. in height terminating in a "feathery" looking (but extremely spiny) cluster of pink to red bracts and blue flowers.

Aechmeas tend to have leaves arranged in a very upright rosette, often forming a tank that can hold a considerable amount of water. Although most have plain green or reddish leaves, when in bloom these plants can be quite striking in their brilliantly colored bracts and flowers.

Aechmeas form berries after flowering and often the berries provide a continueing display of color long after the flowers and bracts have faded. For those of you interested in growing plants from seed, a change in color in the berries as they age is a good indicator that seeds are developing within that berry. Individual berries can be harvested, the seeds removed, and a new generation of plants started from seed. Most hobbyists however soon find that they have more than enough plants from the development of offsets that form at the base of the parent plant. In some species these offsets develop pressed tightly against the parent plant while in other types winding, woody stems called stolons grow away from the parent plant with a new bromeliad at the end of the stem. In either event, these offsets or ‘pups’ (as they are usually called) will mature and bloom and will be identical to the parent, since there is no introduction of different genes from pollen and seed parents (and subsequent possibility of variations) as occurs when plants are grown from seed.

Gardening books and articles on appropriate culture techniques for most plants refer to four main items that the hobbyist has to consider in successful growing:

    1. the amount of sun required (or tolerated)
    2. the amount of water required (or tolerated)
    3. the optimum potting mix
    4. the degree of cold or heat tolerance of the plant

These items also should be considered in growing bromeliads, although #2 is generally irrelevant for bromeliads and #3 is probably not that important as long as numbers 1 and 4 are addressed.

Aechmeas are generally felt to require bright light and this is where many first time growers run into problems with this genus. Bright light and full sun are not the same thing! Although there are a number of species that will tolerate full sun in Florida, these tend to be the tougher, spinier varieties with less attractive foliage. Other species of Aechmea will adapt to full or nearly full sun exposure, but only after a gradual introduction or after one or more generations of sun-burned/washed-out looking individuals.

Aechmeas tolerate hot weather very well, but anyone interested in growing representatives of this genus would do well to obtain a list of the cold tolerant varieties. This is an area where the experience of some of the older club members can prove invaluable and prevent the loss of plants in our frequent cold snaps. It’s difficult if not impossible to guess at the cold tolerance of species based on its appearance. Some of the spiniest, toughest looking Aechmeas fall over dead at the first drop in temperature while some of the more delicate looking varieties can shrug off a freeze with little or no damage!

A few varieties worth consideration for your collection if you live in the Daytona Beach area:

    1. Aechmea gamosepala (and its variegated form – "Lucky Stripes")-as coldhardy as they come and a nice little bloom resembling crossed match-sticks (hence the nickname "Ohio blue tip"
    2. Aechmea chantinii – great looking plant, terrific looking bloom …if you can keep it warm. Look for the more cold hardy varieties like "Ash Blonde" or "Grey Ghost"
    3. Aechmea caudata – very cold tolerant and nice bloom of a cluster orange flowers.
    4. Aechmea ‘Foster’s Favorite’ – an older Foster hybrid, aptly named. Nice green leaves, red on the underside and an arching bloom forming orange to red berries.
    5. Aechmea ‘Fulgo-Ramosa’ – nice cross of two cold sensitive species with a result that’s tougher than either of the parents. Attractive foliage and a large cluster of red berries when in bloom.
    6. Aechmea recurvata (in any of its many forms) – small cold hardy plant that lends itself well to mounting on driftwood or other material. Very attractive shape almost with an oriental style and very bright inflorescence barely clearing the rosette of leaves.


Directions to Sugar Mill Gardens:

When traveling from I-95, take the Port Orange exit ramp (exit 85), go east on Route 421 (Dunlawton )to Nova Rd.(Route 5-A). Turn to the left (north) on Nova Rd, turn right (east) on Herbert Street at the traffic light, this road will fork to the left and becomes Old Mill Road. Follow the signs to the gardens.
When traveling on U.S. 1, go west on Herbert Street, which is one block north of Dunlawton Bridge, and following the signs to the gardens.