Hechtia

(heck’ tya)

Hechtia is one of the genera in the subfamily Pitcairnioideae. The genus was named for Julius Hecht, Councilor of Potsdam, Germany. The first species were identified in the middle of the 19th century and the genus was established in 1885.

The 50 or so species in the genus are almost all native to Mexico. They range from South Texas through Mexico into Central America. None are found in South America, and only five species ( H. dichroantha, H. guatemalensis, H. malvernii, H. glomerata, and H. texensis ) are found outside of Mexico. They are terrestrial plants growing along side cactus and succulents on rocky slopes in deserts and other arid habitats. Although Hechtias have no internal water storage tissue like true succulents, they are xerographic and survive long periods without water by slowing their growth rate. These plants are tough. They will withstand more neglect than almost any other commonly cultivated plant.

Plants consist of a rosette of stiff succulent leaves well armed with marginal spines. They range in size from H. lyman-smithii, which flowers as a 4-6 inch plant up to H. melanocarpa which has a rosette that can measure 5 feet across, with a flower spike that is almost 8 feet tall. Flowers are usually small, white, and born on a branched inflorescence that comes out of the center of the plant. Hechtias are one of the few Bromeliad genera that have separate masculine and feminine forms. Although the flowers appear to be perfect, in the masculine form the pistil is not full developed, and in the feminine form the stamens are not functional.

Light:
They like bright light. Most grow well in 40% to 50% shade which is about 5000 to 6000 foot candles, however if you want to bloom the plants, they will need full sun here in Houston.
Temperature:

They prefer temperatures in the range of 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit at night rising to 70- 90 degrees in the daytime. The nighttime temperature should be at least 10-15 degrees lower than the daytime temperature. Some species will tolerate temperatures in the low 20s for brief periods of time if given some protection. On the other hand, they do not appear to mind Houston’s hot, sunny summers, although care must be taken to give them good air circulation and plenty of water.

Fertilizer:
They don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but they will grow faster and larger if they are fertilized. Well established plants growing in bright light respond to fertilizer applied to the growing medium. However, if you don’t fertilize much, the plant will just grow more slowly. If you do fertilize, cut back on the fertilizer in the winter when the temperatures are lower and the light is not as abundant.
Water:
Keep the plants well watered when they are actively growing. Cut back on the water during the winter when the temperatures are on the cool side and the plant’s growth slows. Misting doesn’t do Hechtias much good. The trichomes on their leaves are not adapted to absorb moisture, but to keep the leaves cool by reflecting some of the light that falls on them.
Medium:
Grow in a well drained mix that contains water retaining polymers and a large quantity of organic matter. They like a mix that has better drainage than one you would use for a Cryptanthus, but not as well drained as a mix that you would use for an Aechmea.
Containers:

Smaller plants grow well in 4 or 5 inch pots, however the larger varieties can be potted in 6 or even 8 inch pots, just remember that the larger the pot the larger the plant will grow. The plants have large root systems and will benefit if they are repotted into a slightly larger pot each year.

Propagation:
You can grow plants from seed, but starting with a pup is quicker, and you are almost assured of getting a plant that looks like the original. A Hechtia is one plant that I grow as a specimen plant, because removing pups is a painful task. The pups are usually well-protected by spines. I don’t think they are as bad as those on a Dyckia, but the spines are sharp and numerous. I would recommend a pair of heavy leather gloves, a sharp knife, and possibly a good supply of your favorite brand of alcoholic beverage to ease the pain. When the pups are about 1/3 the size that the mother plant, they can be removed and placed in their own pots. The easiest way to remove the pups is to knock the plant out of the pot and reach under the mother plant and carefully remove the pup. It is best to start the pups off in a small pot of well drained medium. A mix consisting of equal parts Canadian peat and perlite is fitting. When the pups have developed a good root system, they should be moved into a larger pot with a heavier mix.
Problems:
Sometimes over watering will cause a plant to rot off at the base, but properly spaced plants growing in a well-ventilated area are seldom bothered by insects or disease.

Most Hechtias will grow well in the Houston area. Some of the more popular species are:

  • H .caerulea
  • H. guatemalensis
  • H. glomerata ( syn. H. ghiesbreghtii ) * **
  • H. marnier-lapostollei **
  • H. mexicana **
  • H. podantha
  • H. stenopetala
  • H. texensis ( syn. H. scariosa ) * **

* native to Texas
** cold hardy to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit

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