The exception that proves the rule - a hardy, terrestrial bromeliad

Early this week I was explaining to guest Amanda Hooton (a visiting journalist from the Good Weekend magazine, one of the pleasurable additions to the weekend Sydney Morning Herald/The Age in Australia), that we have to grow bromeliads indoors here in London.

Like all generalisations (he says generalising) it was mostly right, but just a little bit wrong. I said that the species you can see in the Princess of Wales Conservatory could all be found under a Port Jackson Fig growing outside my old office in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

Again a generalisation that was mostly right, but... I'm sure there are species or cultivars unique to either Sydney and Kew.

If pushed I would have admitted that there were undoubtedly one or two bromeliads that could hack the London winter. After all, they are pretty tough plants, surviving with little water or care. But I at that point I hadn't noticed any outdoors in Kew Gardens.

That all changed on my early morning walk around Kew Gardens today. I found the exception, or perhaps one of the exceptions, in Fascicularia bicolor. At first I didn't realise it was a bromeliad. In leaf it looks a bit like a Lomandra from Australia or perhaps even a Dietes from South Africa (or Lord Howe Island in Australia for that matter).

But today I noticed the leaves had parted, in fact been forced apart, by a dish of tiny blue flowers. The colour was a give away - that kind of blue or blue-green is something bromeliads do very well. To add to the spectacle the leaves around the flower dish were bright red.

Fascicularai bicolor is from coastal Chile where, unusually for a bromeliad, it grows on the ground. Another generalisation I could have made was that all bromeliads grow attached to rocks, trunks and branches (apart from some that hang from the branches, like Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides, of course...). We can grow them on the ground but usually loosely attached and without needing much soil.

If I'd been observant, I would have noticed some leaves reddening up over the last few weeks, in readiness for this discrete but colourful flowering in late summer. There is still plenty going on bloom-wise in the botanic garden but things are slowing down as autumn approaches and fruits start to outnumber flowers.

Fascicularia bicolor will hang around all year and I understand it will tolerate temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius. I wonder if I will!


william martin said…
I have grown this Brom for over 20 years in southern is to be found in older garden associated with Mr Guilfoyle. Another similar Sp is Ochagavia with confectionary pink flowers and is as tough as the above..for the best looking polants some partial shade is prefered. I have left clumps of these plants lying around unattached to the ground for in excess of 2 years and survive they do! P.S. The dandy designer Mr J Durie almost wet himself when he saw these plants in flower at my joint.. he went home with a bootload of em!
william martin said…
The clumps you show are the worst condition specilmens I have seen! If i remember rightly the Oxford Bots have some fine examples.
Tim Entwisle said…
Thanks for the feedback from good old Victoria, a place not quite as tough as London for a bromeliad, but getting there! My pictures probably don't do the clump justice - the brown tips to the leaves stand out more than in reality. There are a few other clumps nearby, in the Alpine Rockery, that look better but their flowers weren't as pretty. But will look at Oxford's in due course...
william martin said…
Fasicularia has survived this winter at temperatures to - 12 c at Ottery St Mary in Devon this year without any signs of ill effect. When i worked at Rosemoor in North Devon we grew a plant there at the top of a South facing wall but with protection from an overhanging shrub. This survived temeperatures of below - 15 c and I consider it to be fully hardy.
william martin said…
Friend and colleague Gary Dunlop (Northern Ireland) knows his onions (and a hell of a lot more) See