Monday, November 17, 2008

Gone to the Broms

I've been meaning to do a blog on my small collection of bromeliads, but only on a desultory "one of these days" basis. And then today a delightful little discovery, entirely accidental, brought matters forward. So, broms it is.

These are the broms (Neoregelias, I think) which got a mention in my last blog, mostly because they're doing their colourful reproductive thing right now, and the real reddy pink colour is just luminescent in a way that photos and web jpegs can't hope to match.

All the neoregelias are having their little spring fling right now. This one is my oldest brom and has mothered many offspring, several of whom have gone to homes all over the place as I try to keep up with the population explosion. It lives in a shady corner near my cardamom and ginger plants. And it gets absolutely no attention from me at all. No watering, no topping up of the water 'bowl' in the centre, no feeding, nothing. Thrives on neglect, this guy.

This spectacularly ugly photo would get me drummed out of the brom society, should I ever wish to join. This potted neoregelia is behind a large murraya bush, and is wedged in between my olive tree and the fence, held in place firmly with some short stakes. Why? To block a major pussy cat highway, that's why! The local cats used this area as a lurking spot for murderous attacks on one of my backyard birdbaths – but no longer! It works a treat, and now the cats just skulk down the main pathway, thwarted hunters muttering into their whiskers... And the tough old brom has proved to be a very good cat-proof fence!

Experiment time – growing a pineapple from a store-bought one. This chap has sprouted roots, but it isn't doing all that well. The red colouring on the leaves means it desperately needs a feed (I've done that now), so I'm hoping that it will have a much better summer and will grow on for me. Pineapples, of course, are the only bromeliad which produces an edible fruit, hence its inclusion.

Here's the typical 'air plant' tillandsia which are sold at markets, and that's where Pam found this one. It's just finished flowering but appears to have settled in OK.

I've saved the delightful little discovery which has prompted this brom blog till last. As I was outside doing a few more snaps for the succulent blog which I am slowly compiling, I realised that I didn't have any Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) shots for the "one of these days" brom blog, so I banged off a couple.

Outside, I didn't notice anything, but as soon as the pix came up in iPhoto I noticed the little blob of green. Wots that? A flower! Outside again with camera in hand, lad!

A very small but perfectly formed little green flower.

Little pollen thingy inside. Wonder which tiny insects do the honours on the pollen transfer?

You can get an idea of the flower's tiny size here. When I stood back and looked at the plant there were about a dozen of these micro blooms per plant. Not sure how long they'll last, but they were definitely the highlight of our gardening day.

Bromeliads are a great class of plants to have in the garden. The vriesias, with their spectacular flower spikes, are very popular, and I guess I'll get one of those soon, to expand the collection. Broms are, unfortunately, a bit overpriced in nurseries, so getting started can be the hard part if your budget is limited. One good thing is that bromeliads send out 'pups' every year, so anyone who already has some broms could well be ready to give away a couple of 'pups' that they don't have space for.

The main trick with raising the pups is to not cut them off the parent plant too soon. Let them grow on a bit, so they're roughly one-third the size of the parent, then cut off the pup at the base and plant that up. The only pups that ever didn't make it were some tiddlers that I planted up too soon, so I've learned my lesson.

I find caring for broms very easy. I grow all mine in pots, in a home-made mixture of 50:50 ordinary potting mix and orchid potting mix. In the wild, broms are epiphytes like orchids, growing up in trees in spots where branches join at the trunks, or where trunks fork, etc, so they don't need soil. I don't feed my broms at all, as the natural process of falling leaves gathering then decaying in their central reservoir seems to be enough – and my garden has oodles of falling leaves.

A while back I read a great magazine article on broms which said two important things about watering them. One was that most broms die from over-watering, rather than under-watering, and this is especially true during winter here in a temperate spot like Sydney.

The other point was that you should not slavishly 'top up' the central water reservoir all the time. In the South and Central American jungles where they come from, bromeliads survive dry periods, so letting the cup dry out every now and then is not such a crime.

The best spot for broms in my backyard seems to be brightly lit shade or dappled shade. Really dark shade doesn't suit them, but they are very tough things that will survive in all sorts of lousy positions. I've seen them soldiering on in ordinary garden soil in full sun in some gardens, so it's pretty hard to kill a brom!