Billbergia X saundersii: Rainbow Plant

Many bromeliads are plants that can really stand up to ‘tough’ conditions and take a good deal of neglect without harm. Billbergia is one such genus that tolerates practically everything. The well-known queen’s tears (Billbergia nutans), may be put in full sun or deep shade and will flower regularly every year even in the smokiest amosphere and even if the leaves are not cleaned and it is not watered for months. No wonder that it is the most widely cultivated bromeliad.

Equally hardy is B. x saundersii (sometimes classed as a cultivar, at other times as a ‘good species’ from Brazil), which is encountered in culture almost as often as B. nutans. It, too, tolerates everything, practically any location, even temperatures near freezing point in dry conditions, but also temperatures of more than 30°C (86°F) though it is a cool-loving species. It flowers readily and puts out numerous sideshoots so that it is propagated easily and quickly. Plants attain their full beauty if grown in partial shade and a slightly heated or, better still, a cool room. The leaves turn a deep wine red or purplish violet on the underside while the upper surface is a glossy deep green. They furthermore have translucent, milky-white ‘windows’ that are characteristic of this species. A specimen grown in poor light conditions (which proves that billbergia flowers well even if neglected); that is why the underside of the leaves is not as brightly coloured as it might be.

Hybrids, obtained by crossings with other species or with Billbergia hybrids, also exist. Loveliest is Billbergia ‘Fascinator’ (B. x windii x B. x saundersii), raised by the German grower Walter Richter. It forms a closed rosette of leaves coloured reddish green and covered almost entirely with large yellowish-white spots. The flowers, produced in winter, are more compact than those of the species, the bracts large and purplish red.

Though most of the approximately 60 known species of Billbergia grow as epiphytes in the wild they also do well if grown in flower pots. Use John Innes potting compost with extra peat added.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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