A Paper presented at the Australian Bromeliad conference held in Adelaide 1995

By: Dr. Gilbert Samyn

Research Station for Ornamental Plant Growing Centre Agricultural Research

The genus Vriesea forms in the Bromeliad family a group of almost relatively small to middle sized plants which have a very opportune habit as ornamental. Their colourful inflorescences and their faint or dark green elegant leaves, make them profitable as ornamentals for weeks or months in houseroom conditions. Since the latter part of the 19th century, many species were imported into Europe as novelties for horticulture. Some of them have still today a certain importance like V. splendens, V. fenestralis or V. zamorensis. Vrieseas have been however most successful as hybrids; Since the first hybridisation was performed in 1879, an important number of new cultivars appeared in an increasing rate during the following forty years.

Later on, the tempo of new forms became slower and slower, because the general enthusiasm present before World War I was lost. Nevertheless the keenness of some enthusiasts remained. Today bromeliad culture has returned to its important position in the international plant trade. A number of very beautiful but also efficiently propagated hybrids emerged. Thanks to the 'in vitro' culture or the production of seed-stable cultivars, millions of young plants pass the frontiers every year. Except for the more expensive variegated types, especially Neoregelias, the time of production by lateral shoots has gone and should no more be used for commercial purposes. I will try to give here an outline of the lifetime of Vriesea hybrids of the last hundred years. It could be done only by listing the historical and present hybrids and their relationships but I prefer to do it together with the illustration of the history of breeding. Reference to past personalities will enable us to participate in mind in this centennial adventure.

We can show the most important sources of the genes, which originated the actual hybrids. In fact, pictures of 19th century hybrids and those of today are quite different, as the plants have progressed through many generations of offsets in the care of bromeliad breeders.

19th century
Vriesea 'Morreniana' and parents
Vriesea 'Morreniana'
painting by Morren
Vriesea 'Morreniana' in top right and its parents
psittacina on left and father carinata bottom right
Vriesea 'Morreniana'

I confess that this resume will be presented with a certain prejudice. Belgian bromeliad growers have been for more than a century at the fore-front of this culture, by the introduction of novelties from the native habitat or obtaining new hybrids. This was always done with prospects to the commercial value or valorisation. In the 1950's the USA became a nation of bromeliad hobbyists, enthusiasts and some well known growers who had also no fear in handling the fertilization brush, resulting in a lot of beautiful but locally important hybrids, mostly of small culture and less important for international trade. The same applies to a lesser extent to Australia and New Zealand. This history would merit another talk.

2.1. Historical context
The introduction of bromeliads into Europe was undeniably instigated by Eduard Morren (1833-1886), the curator of the Botanical Garden of Liege. Numerous species were described by him and many of them introduced to the public. This public was not the same of today and was more interested by unusual plants, rather than by the well known items. He did his first crossing in 1879 : V. psittacina x V. carinata resulting in the V. 'Morreniana'. The known hybrids of Morren are scarce. I only found V. 'Retroflexa' (V. psittacina x V. scalaris) (Morren 1884) and V. 'Elegans' (V.'Morreno-barilletii' x 'Fulgida') mentioned in 1892, 6 years after he died, but different from V. 'Elegans' of Duval. However, he started a period in which growers moved their interest from the import of new species to the production of their own hybrids. They became glad that nature could be manipulated by themselves.

In Table 1 we mention the names of the first European breeders. Several countries were involved but essentially Belgium and France were involved at the start. Jos. Marechal, chief culturist at the Botanical Garden of Liege and Leon Duval of France brought during 20 years an important lot of Vriesea hybrids to the public. Chevalier continued this work in Belgium till the 1920's. Other names are Truffaut, Kittel, and Witte.

TABLE 1 - Vriesea breeders of the end 19th and beginning 20th century

Morren, EduardLiege (Bot.Garden)Belgium
Chevalier, J.Liege (Bot.Garden)Belgium
Marechal, Jos.Liege (Bot.Garden)Belgium
Duval, LeonParisFrance
Closon, J.M.Liege (Jacob-Makoy)Belgium
Truffaut, M.A.VersaillesFrance
Kittel Germany

2.2. Plant characters
Let's now consider how they looked, these first Vriesea hybrids. They had nearly all a simple inflorescence, only V. 'Kitteliana' has a branched one. Even V. 'Poelmanii' (V. 'Van Geertii' x V. 'Gloriosa'), obtained by Duval in 1896, had at that time a single inflorescence. We will come back on this later. Only some species were preferentially used, whose typical characters could be followed after several generations, especially V. barilletii which was an important parent, but also V. carinata.

I refer to Table 2 (Witte,H., 1894) with the first hybrids of Duval. We see that only 7 species were used : V. psittacina var rubro-bracteata (syn.V.'Krameri'), V. psittacina, V. duvaliana, V. fenestralis, V. incurvata, V. barilletii and V. splendens. The first for the robustness and the form of the spike, the second played its role in a certain form of elegance and fineness of the inflorescence and a better coloration.

Chevalier (1930) discerns 3 major groups:
1. The group Barilletii-carinata
2. The Vrieseas obtained from V. incurvata, V. duvaliana (syn.V.'Duvalii') and V. 'Van Geertii'
3. - Other hybrids of some different species such as. V. splendens, and V. malzinei
- The first branched inflorescences

TABLE 2- The first Duval hybrids and their parentage (Witte H. 1895)

Vriesea 'Cardinalis'
(V. psittacina var rubro-bracteata (syn.V. 'Krameri') x V. carinata (syn. V. psittacina brachystachys)
'Elegans'[V. barilletii x (V. carinata x V. psittacina) x V. duvaliana]
'Fenestralo-Fulgida'(V. fenestralis x V. 'Fulgida')
Vriesea 'Fulgida'
(V. duvaliana x V. incurvata)
'Gemma'[V. barilletii x (V. carinata x V. psittacina)] x (V. duvaliana x V. incurvata)
'Kramero-Fulgida'(V. duvaliana x V. incurvata) x V. psittacina var rubrobracteata
'Minima'(V. 'Morreniana' x V. duvaliana)
Vriesea 'Morreno-Barilletii'
(V. barilletii x V. 'Morreniana')
'Psittacino-Fulgida'(V. duvaliana x V. incurvata) x V. psittacina
'Rex'(V. barilletii x V.'Morreniana') x (V. carinata x V. psittacina var rubrobracteata)
'Sphinx'(V. fenestralis x V. splendens var formosa)
'Splendida'(V. carinata x V. 'Fulgida')

It seemed that V. incurvata dominated V. barilletii when hybridized. Both groups were however crossed and gave a lot of contemporary popular hybrids such as V. 'Wallonia' and V. 'Baron de Selys'. Most hybrids had single spikes. However, some attempts were made to produce naturally branched inflorescences. One of the first was V. 'Kitteliana' (V. barilletii x V. saundersii). Another was V. 'Vigeri' of Duval (V. rodigasiana x V. 'Cardinalis') or V. 'Wildemaniana' of Marechal (V. saundersii x V. 'Conferta'). With these crosses a new list of branched hybrids were started, but not one of them has survived in commerce, even though some are grown in collections to this day.

A remake could be done on V. 'Viminalis Rex'. Neither Chevalier nor Dutrie can agree about the origin of this branched hybrid. However it survived the war and was surely used in crosses just before, during and after World War II.

Regrettably this did happen, and compared to the period before, the activity in breeding Vrieseas really declined after 1918. It can be related to the general situation of bromeliad growing. We can note, that in the 5-yearly Floralies of Ghent, the presentation of new bromeliads during almost 20 years between the 2 World Wars, did not have the previous lustre. The collections of species and hybrids were still conserved, but more as "prestige" for the concerned growers. We know that breeding was closely correlated with commercial prospects. In this period we have Louis Dutrie, on which the B.S.I. dedicated several articles some years ago (DUTRIE,1989 a,b). During a 10 year period he obtained a lot of hybrids of which many were presented in the monthly plant meetings in Ghent. Many of them were awarded but didn't really have commercial value then as later on.

We have to consider that the general situation wasn't really ideal for hybridising. The economic crises of the thirties were followed by the second World War and could have stopped irreversably the Belgian bromeliad breeding.

During Dutrie's professional activity there was some interest in Ghent for hybridising plants with decorative foliage. Two examples are worth mentioning:
V. 'Papa Chevalier' : (V. 'Mephisto' x V. pastuchoffiana) obtained by Chevalier
V. 'Intermedia' : (V. hieroglyphica x V. 'Viminalis Rex') obtained by M.R. Morobe. This last breeder is still well known for his results in the breeding of Neoregelias and Nidulariums.

Other crossings were done with V. fenestralis, V. splendens and V. tessellata, without constant results. From the beginning of bromeliad breeding, the difficulties in breeding plants with decorative leaves were soon stated.

All this hybrid material could have been interesting but they hardly survived World War II and we will see that recent breeders started with very little material to obtain our recent or modern cultivars.

4.1. Belgium
After World War II, bromeliad breeding, especially on Vriesea, was started again but by new people. Dutrie died in 1948, and most of his hybrids were lost. However, a lot of collection material was saved from complete loss and formed the basis of new trials. Older bromeliad growers, however still mention the difficulties they had in obtaining bromeliad species or hybrids to make their first crosses. For Vriesea we must mention four people : Carlos Broeckaert, Hendrik De Meyer and Deroose, Albert and his son Reginald. (The Morobe family continued essentially with Neoregelia).

The first is still to be remembered for his discovery of a variegated type in Vriesea 'Poelmanii', which was called 'Madam Carlos Broeckaert'. This chimaeric type was not very stable and resulted in many worthless shoots. It was afterwards obtained by Deroose (senior). who selected after many years a stable type which was finally one of the first protected Vriesea cultivars in Europe. It is now cultivated in the Netherlands by Henny Bos as Vriesea 'White Line'.

Hendrik De Meyer started his crossings in the late fifties. Nowadays, he is a famous Guzmania breeder which is due to his first and last successes with this genus that stimulated him to continue in this direction. At the beginning he also worked with Vriesea and Neoregelia. Two of his successful Vriesea cultivars were Vriesea 'Meyers Favorite' and V. 'Splendide', already available in the sixties. The first is a selection of V. splendens found in Venezuela. Two plants were distributed, the first one came in the possession of De Leon, in the USA who called it V. 'Juno'. The plant of De Meyer was commercialized as V. 'Meyers Favorite' and it is still today cultivated with much approval.
His V. 'Splendide' is a cross between V. splendens and V. glutinosa. It is a quite voluminous plant with a branched inflorescence. The plants are commercialized as F1 seedlings, the product of regularly repeated crosses, with selected parent plants. In the B.S.I. checklist of bromeliad hybrids this information is not yet completely mentioned.

Let's continue with the family Deroose (sr and jr). Deroose sr. made his first Vriesea crosses in the fifties. Certain of them were done with hybrids which had survived the World War but for which it was difficult to remember their parentage (you know: trial and error). His work gave rise to a series of young lady names such as 'Rose-Marie', 'Lucille' (both x 'Viminalis Rex' x V. carinata), 'Leentje', 'Katrien', 'Marjolein' and others as 'Coral' or 'Deroose'. They are quite small Vriesea hybrids, some are branched, others not. These hybrids had success but sometimes the name of the breeder was forgotten. So can we read in 1976 in the "Deutscher Gartenbau" about a 'Lucyll' selected by a Karl Seidel (Turban,1976). Surely selected from the Deroose sr. hybrids. His son Reginald followed a training course at our Research Institute for Ornamental Plant Growing and finally took over the family nursery. It was the start to a new series of successful Vriesea hybrids, sometimes somewhat more voluminous and nearly all branched. V. 'Tiffany', V. 'July', V. 'Margot', V. 'Marjan', V. 'Charlotte' and V. 'Ella'.

Details about parentage are now hard to obtain, as they are considered a commercial secret. Bromeliad enthusiasts can have problems with it, but this is the situation in most bromeliad commercial nurseries nowadays. Amateurs exchange their results but commercial people defend their actual results in view of further still better selections or hybrids.
The hybrids of Deroose are now the result of such an important series of hybrid crosses and continual selection that they became so heterogeneous that they all have to be propagated by 'in vitro' culture.

Let's conclude with the results of our own Institute. In fact, we consider it a little bit as a continuation of the old Belgian bromeliad breeders. It's a proof of the centennial interest of Official Belgium to bromeliad culture. Started more than forty years ago, different topics of commercial bromeliad culture were studied. This included also hybridisations in different genera. We are proud about the success of the Aechmea 'Romero' (A. fendleri x A. 'Perumazon'). But also Vriesea was involved. Some of our first hybrids are mentioned in the International checklist of bromeliad hybrids:

V. 'Elfi': A chimaerical and variegated selection of V. 'Natascha'
V.'Mira':V. malzinei x V. heliconioides var polysticha
V. 'Natascha':V. fenestralis x V. 'Poelmanii'
V.'Ingrid':V. 'Poelmanii' x V. saundersii

A more recent hybrid is V. 'Fernanda' (V.x 'Vigeri' x V. malzinei), commercialized during the last few years by Deroose.

Making crosses is not our first purpose. They must have in the first instance commercial value, and be able to compete with the actual hybrids on the market. So we set actually more scientific targets like the inheritance in bigeneric crosses or physiological characters of species and hybrids such as cold tolerance (Lauwers and Samyn,1989). We are studying now a cross between V. zamorensis and V. 'Marjan' one a cold tolerant species and the other a hybrid because of information gleaned from the following investigation.

TABLE 3- Two dimentional distribution of the standardized cold tolerance and growth rate of 25 Vriesea-genotypes (LAUWERS,L. & G.SAMYN, 1989).

1. 'Marjan'8. seideliana15. splendens x 'Favorite'22. 'Mira'
2.'Poelmanii'9. 'Carinata'16. racinae23. 'Fernanda'
3. hieroglyphica10. 'Wioteana'17. tesselata24. fenestralis
4. zamorensis11. malzinei18. 'Vigeri'25. 'Meyers Favorite'
5. 'Margot'12. 'Rode'19. saundersii
6. 'Christiane'13. splendens20. 'Coral'
7. 'Mariae'14. 'Vulcana'21. ospinae

4.2. The Rest of the World
Until now I have treated the subject as a Belgian. It is indeniable that this country did much during a century of deserving work and had a contribution in what bromeliad growers have reached today. During that time France lost a leading role in bromeliads after the work of Duval, Andre and Truffaut.

I should mention however Marnier-Lapostolle, one of the last French bromeliad experts, who founded in the French Riviera at the Mediterranean Sea an exquisite botanical garden. Some of his hybrids are mentioned in the International Checklist.

Germany, which was already present in the beginning of bromeliad culture, continued in a moderate tempo its contribution. I must mention surely Richter and Pinckert, two breeders who obtained both interesting plants, of which, both are worthy to be mentioned still today.

Richter obtained at the end of the fifties, the hybrid 'Komet' (V. corcovadensis x V. 'Sceptre d'Or'). This hybrid is still propagated for the German market by the firm Pinckert. It has normally a single spike but has the advantage to stay for several months. Sometimes branched inflorescences can occur on very mature plants. The cross has been repeated several times and other selections have become available. So, at this moment in Germany, closely related 'Komet' types can be found.

Pinckert himself is also a very enthusiast breeder and has a very beautiful collection of self obtained hybrids, but without real economic importance, considering the production volume. An exception is the hybrid Vriesea 'Fire'. This very popular small Vriesea hybrid was patented by the Dutch grower Van De Velde but is commercialized in mass by Cornelius Bak the Dutch Bromeliad "Giant".

So let's come now to the Dutch growers. It is a fact that the Netherlands have obtained in the last 20 years a world famous name in horticulture. Their wish to transform a part of the agricultural area into horticulture, and the economic advantages offered by their own production of natural gas made a glasshouse production of ornamentals at competitive prices possible. Since that time bromeliad production has also become very important. The market is essentially taken by hybrids of Deroose jr. propagated by "in vitro" culture and those of Cornelius Bak mostly propagated by seed. Well known Vriesea hybrids of Bak are V. 'Vulcana' (parents not known). V. 'Splenriet' (V. splendens) and V. 'Elan' (V. rubrobracteata).

A problem with the Bak hybrids is that they are not cloned and not always Fl-hybrids, so that sometimes it is difficult to render the population really homogeneous.

Last but not least, lets come to America, especially the United States, the birth place of the explosion in bromeliad enthusiasm. The climate offers a lot of advantages in the growing of bromeliads. So the South going from Florida to California is the bromeliad paradise and the biennial meeting place of all world famous bromeliad breeders, traders and hobbyists.

The bromeliad checklist of hybrids going from Aechmea to Tillandsia mentions a lot of American names. De Leon, Kent and others have participated to produce of a lot of hybrids.

It is difficult for me to judge the real importance of all those cultivars. They are focused on the local American market and help to complete plant catalogues of the concerned traders. I have no numbers of hybrids sold, or which how many can be, considering the market area, important but without international exchange.

It is difficult to estimate if the direction to which American Vriesea hybrids are evolving differs from the European situation except the sizes, as for other genera, can be much more voluminous. However some breeder names are available:

Nat De Leon: A well known name in the hybrid checklist. I mentioned already the hybrid 'Juno'. The V.'Blaze' is another hybrid which we recently heard about.

Herbert Hill : His 'Bonfire' seems to be better than many others.

John Arden: A breeder from whose named hybrids also the parents are known. This became exceptional in the actual commercial hybrids.
'Elvira' : V. bleheri x V. hieroglyphica
'Jeanne': V. 'Van Ackeri' x 'Brentwood'
'Golden Tips' : cv of 'Maroon Delight'
'Inferno': V. ensiformis x V. regina
'Jungle Jade': V. platynema x V. hieroglyphica
'Maroon Delight' : V. 'Maroon Feather' x V. simplex
'Slim': V. gigantea 'Nova' x V. flammea
'Tropical Princess' : V. 'Van Ackeri' x V. bleheri

We have tried to illustrate the evolution of breeding Vrieseas and the resulting hybrids themselves during more than one century. They have changed from plants with no branched inflorescences, and closely related to a few botanical species, to more balanced plants. A modern commercial Vriesea hybrid is middle-sized with a good erect and branched inflorescence. The spike of the stem may not be too long, because of transport difficulties. Complete vertical stems are preferred above those with a tendency of bending. Because they have to be fast growing, the leaves of the well-fed plants, may not show any spotting by mineral nutrition. The parentage of most actual hybrids in commerce is very complex, and difficult to find completely. Actually the V. 'Poelmanii' hybrid from 1897 of Duval plays a not too negligible role, although it is no more the same plant as firstly described. Selections of 'Poelmanii' with very compact and branched inflorescences became available and even coloration varies from yellow over orange to yellow. Some of these old hybrids still remain popular (See Table 4)

While the number of annual hybridisations is very high, only few will be seen by the public, because the requirements are very high. A small negative deviation renders immediately a new type worthless. There is just no time to name every cross product. Tomorrow we can be sure that bromeliads will be genetic-engineered and influenced by biotechniques but even if the new ":perfect": hybrid is most beautiful outside and the best inside above all the others, I think that the pleasure will only equal that of the first breeders of the earlier and more simple hybrids.

TABLE 4 - Vriesea hybrids of the first generation which still retain a certain importance.

V. 'Mariae'1888TruffautV. carinata x V. barilletii
V. 'Wiotiana'1892MarechalV. barilletii x V. psittacina
V. 'Cardinalis'1890DuvalV. carinata x V. psittacina v. rubrobracteata
V. 'Intermedia'1884MarechalV. barilletii x V. fenestralis
V. 'Intermedia'1930-40MorobeV. hieroglyphica x V. 'Viminalis Rex'
V. 'Poelmanii'1896DuvalV. 'Van Geertii' x 'Gloriosa'
V. 'Vigeri'1894DuvalV. rodigasiana x 'Cardinalis'


Monographie des Bromeliacees-Tillandsiees
Extrait du Journal de la Societe Nationale d'Horticulture de France, juillet 1930, pp."&;
The Bromeliads Genera - Species - Hybrids (Continued).
Hybrids of the Vrieseas.
J.Brom.Soc., 1989, 39 (1), p.28-32.
The Bromeliads : Genera - Species - Hybrids (Continued).
Personal hybrids of Vrieseas.
J.Brom.Soc., 1989, 39 (2), p.62-64.
Evaluatie van de koudetolerantie in funktie van de veredeling naar
verminderde energiebehoefte bij Vriesea.
Revue de l'Agriculture - Landbouwtijdschrift, 1989,42, p.1373-1378.
Notice sur le x Vriesea retroflexa (Hybr.). Vriesea scalaris var. retroflexa.
La Belgique Horticole, 1884, 34, p.185-187.
Wertvolle Sortimentserweiterung bei Vriesea
Deutscher Gartenbau, 1976, 18, p.632.
Vriesea Rex Duval
Revue Horticulture Belge, 1894, p.217-221.