Aechmea

(eek’-me-uh or eck-mee’-uh)

Aechmea, a genus in the subfamily Bromelioideae, is one of the most widely grown groups of Bromeliads. Christopher Columbus introduced the pineapple, a bromeliad in the genus Ananas, to Europe in 1493, but Aechmea fasciata didn’t make it to Europe until about 1826. Since then over 220 Aechmea species have been identified, ranging in size from 1 or 2 inches in diameter (Ae. recurvata var. benrathii) to about 10 feet in diameter (Ae. conifera). They have a geographical range covering an area from Central Mexico and the West Indies south to Argentina. They grow from sea level to high in the mountains. They grow in sun, in shade, on rocks, on trees, and, best of all, in homes, gardens and greenhouses all over the world. Most Ae. are grown for their inflorescences, but many as a bonus have showy leaves that add interest to the plants even when they are not in bloom. Most species have sharp spines on the leaf margins, but some have none. Truly, there must be an Aechmea for every person’s taste.

For the most part, Aechmeas are not demanding in their culture. Each one takes a little different care, but generally I have found the following conditions work well.

Light: They like moderate (1500 -2000 foot-candles) to bright (over 2000 foot-candles) light, and some will grow in almost full sun.
Temperature: Some plants can tolerate cold temperatures, and some are extremely sensitive to the cold. In general, they prefer 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but some can tolerate temperatures as low as 35 degrees and as high as 120 degrees for short periods of time.
Fertilizer: Under ideal conditions of temperature and light, Aechmeas grown in pots may be fertilized using either ¼ strength liquid or timed-release fertilizer. Mounted plants can be sprayed with a dilute (1/8 to 1/16 strength) fertilizer solution twice a week during the growing season. Plants should be fed less, if at all, during the winter.
Water: Keep the cup full of water at all times flushing with fresh water every week or two. The growing medium should be allowed to become moderately dry before being soaked thoroughly. In the winter, grow the plants a little on the dry side.
Medium: Those that are potted like a well drained medium such as a mixture of ½ small bark chips and ½ peat based soil less mix.
Containers: Some of the smaller plants are happy in 4 inch pots; however the larger varieties are best potted in 6, 8 or even 10 inch pots depending on the plant’s mature size. Azalea pots are a good choice because they are less prone to tip over in the wind. Most of the plants can be grown mounted on wood or cork bark. If you are mounting a plant, start with a pup not a mature plant. Aechmeas form two different root systems. Plants potted in a mix will form a root system that is adapted to taking up water and nutrients from the soil. Plants mounted on wood or bark will put out a set of tough strong roots adapted to holding the plant secure, but they will not be able to absorb water and nutrients.
Propagation: After blooming the mature plant goes into a slow decline, but small plants called pups will develop at the base of plant. When a pup is about 1/3 to ½ the size of the mature plant it can be removed and mounted, or it can be potted in its own pot. Pups root quickly in the spring, and will usually bloom in 1-3 years. If the pups are not removed, you can remove the original plant when it dies, and allow the pups to grow as a clump. For those who like adventure, they can be grown from seed, but this is a slow process that can take many years.
Problems: Properly spaced plants growing in a well ventilated area are seldom bothered by disease or insects. Occasionally plants will be attacked by a fungus, but recovery is rapid when treated early with a fungicide. Insect problems are usually minimal, but if the plants are crowded, and there is little air circulation scale infestation can develop. The two most common types of scale are the brown soft bodied scale and the black tea scale. A treatment or two of insectidal soap will usually bring the brown scale under control. However tea scale is much harder to kill. If a plant is infected with black tea scale, it can be destroyed, or you can consult your local garden center for an appropriate insecticide.

Some Aechmeas that grow well in the Houston area:

  • Chantinii ( ‘Samurai’ and ‘Shogun’)
  • calyculata
  • fasciata* (variegated and marginated forms as well as ‘Morgana’, ‘Sangria’ , and ‘DeLeon,’ a spineless form )
  • fulgens
  • gamosepala * ( ‘Lucky Stripes’ and ‘Mardi Gras’)
  • lueddemanniana ( ‘MEND’)
  • mexicana
  • nudicaulis* ( many different forms )
  • orlandiana (‘Snowflakes’, ‘Ensign’, and ‘Reverse Ensign’)
  • recurvata* ( ‘Bandit’, ‘Big Momma’, ‘Orangeade’ and many other forms)
  • tocantina
  • and a multitude of hybrids.

Plants marked with an * are ones that have survived in my yard in Tomball, Texas (zone 8b) for several years with minimal protection.

Aechmea| Billbergia| Cryptanthus| Dyckia| Hechtia | Neoregelia| Tillandsia