Bromeliads: Aechmea fas data: Urn Plant

The species selected as the first in this section on the pineapple family is one that will soon celebrate the hundredth anniversary of its introduction into cultivation. Aechmea fasciata is native to Brazil, where it grows as an epiphyte. It is adapted against drying out by having the leaves covered with absorbent scales that obtain life-giving water for the plant from the moisture in the atmosphere. These scales are arranged in horizontal bands, chiefly on the underside but also on the upper surface of the leaves. All parts of the plant, including the striking bluish flowers with pink bracts that retain their colour for months, are hard, a form of adaptation to drought. No wonder, then, that this plant became so popular as an exceptionally hardy species for room decoration in modern centrally-heated homes. It also tolerates the air pollution (gases, dust and smoke) of cities, so that it is an ideal modern-day house plant. Though it is not damaged by full sun, light shading is preferred. As with all cistern bromeliads, that is those with leaves forming a funnel to catch rainwater, the water stored in the ‘vase’ in the centre of the rosette should never dry out for long.

This species can be grown successfully both as an epiphyte and in the more traditional way, in a pot in a mixture of beech leaf mould, peat, and sand plus some orchid-chips or bits of charcoal added to make the mix lighter.

Since the genus Aechmea includes more than 150 species it is difficult to say which are the loveliest. As already mentioned, A. fasciata is probably the most popular. Another lovely species is Aechmea chan-tinii, whose coloration is extremely decorative. The leaves are stiff, wide and horizontally striped with deep green and silvery white; the flowers are erect with bright red bracts. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to propagate and so is not only rare in cultivation but also expensive.

Most aechmeas are readily propagated from seed, sown either on the surface of sterile peat or directly on the bark where the plants are to be grown as epiphytes.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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