Rhoeo spathacea ‘Vittata’: Boat Lily Plant

This plant, like the previous one, may provide cause for surprise when we encounter it in the wild. In Mexico, for instance, rhoeo may be found growing as an epiphyte on an old rotting stump on a sunny bank. The leaves are arranged in a rosette, so that the plant greatly resembles the funnel of cistern bromeliads. This morphological adaptation of plants due to similar modes of life is known as convergence. As a result of it, two totally unrelated plants may come to resemble one another. In the given case, the arrangement of the leaves has an evident purpose — to bring rainwater directly to the roots or to store it in the funnel as a reserve supply.

Rhoeo spathacea (syn. R. discolor) is the only member of the genus. It is native to tropical Central America but often grows wild elsewhere in the tropics. The leaves of the type species are linear lanceolate, about 40 cm (16 in) long, dark green on the upperside and purplish-violet below. The white flowers are clustered between leathery, shell-shaped bracts in the axils of the leaves. More widely grown than the type species is the cultivar ‘Vit-tata’, longitudinally striped yellow on the upperside of the leaves.

This plant is one of the easiest to grow and will succeed well in a modern home with central heating even in the hands of a beginner. The most suitable compost is a light mixture of peat, rotted wood dust and sand with only a small addition of more nourishing loam. They can be used in many ways but visitors to botanical gardens, where rhoeo is grown as an epiphyte, will surely support the view that plants grown in this way make a striking display and at the same time look natural.

Propagation is easy, either by means of seeds or by side-shoots that are produced in large numbers, particularly after the original leaf rosette has been cut back.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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