Bromeliads, pineapples and Spanish moss

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I do not claim distinction as a houseplant grower, but I do grow attached to the few I have. I have even been known to give some of them names, as a yucca I called Dewey who was my office mate for many years. Eventually, Dewey grew so large I reluctantly decided he should have another home, and I hope he is still doing well.

For quite some time, my houseplant collection has been limited to a split-leaf philodendron that has been part of my life for more than 50 years, and a few orchids, some of which I acquired from friends who decided there may be more to life than waiting for orchids to bloom. Incidentally, I am very pleased to report that one of those adopted orchids has produced a flower stalk and blooms should appear any day. The flowers usually last several weeks, so orchid cultivation can be very rewarding. I modestly attribute the success to beginner’s luck.

My newest houseplant is a bromeliad given to me by friends who decided the plant would probably be happier somewhere other than in their home. My friends have very nice cats who discovered bromeliads as a snack. In fact, it almost seemed they were prepared to make bromeliad leaves their entire diet. It is well-established that bromeliads are not toxic to pets, but it did appear the plant would not enjoy living with cats. That is how I acquired a bromeliad, and I am finding it to be a very interesting plant.

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Looking at the photograph, you may see something familiar about the plant’s leafy structure, which is probably because the best-known bromeliads are pineapples. In fact, home gardeners sometimes start plants from the leafy crowns of grocery store pineapples and, after two or three years, home-grown pineapples may even produce fruit. That may seem like a long wait, but even pineapples grown commercially in the tropics need 14 to 18 months.

The largest bromeliad is called queen of the Andes, growing as tall as 15 metres in Bolivia and Peru. Others are as small as 6 centimetres, so there are many varieties to keep bromeliad-fanciers busy. The varieties we typically see in garden centres grow in potting soil, but many bromeliads do very nicely living in trees in the manner of orchids or, as you may remember reading here recently, Christmas cactus.

About 3,000 bromeliad species have been identified, but none are quite so misnamed as “Spanish moss.” If you have traveled in coastal areas of the southern United States, you probably remember seeing abundant Spanish moss hanging from trees. It’s mostly harmless (it reportedly makes excellent mulch), and I’ve always found it lovely. But, technically speaking, Spanish moss is not Spanish because it is native to Mexico and Central America, not Spain. Also technically speaking, it is not moss. In fact,

Spanish moss is also a bromeliad. On the best day of my life I wouldn’t have guessed Spanish moss is in the pineapple family, but it is.

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In other garden news, meetings and special presentations of Garden Stratford (Stratford and District Horticultural Society) continue as virtual events.

Coming very soon — Sunday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m. — is a virtual workshop on seed starting. Wednesday, March 17 (Saint Patrick’s Day), will be master gardener Jim Fitzgerald’s presentation at 7 p.m. on Time For The Veggie Garden. On Monday, March 29, we will enjoy Elizabeth Spedaliere’s 7 p.m. presentation, Going Native To Restore Diversity.

Those events are benefits enjoyed by Garden Stratford members. Members should watch for emails announcing how to register for those events, as well as future workshops on seed starting, plant propagating and building a cold frame.

The 2021 memberships are just $15. Contact membership co-ordinator Mary Hoffman (marihoffman@cyg.net; 519-271-2246) to arrange membership, or send an e-transfer to sdhstreasurer@wightman.ca. If you choose that method, please enter in the e-transfer’s message box if your membership is new or renewal, and your email address. If you are a new member, or if you have changed address, please email sdhstreasurer@wightman.ca with your new address, postal code and phone number.

Memberships are also available at Stratford Blooms (59 Albert St.) and Flowers on York (27 York St.). I’m sure they would appreciate a telephone call if you would like to purchase memberships from them. Your membership card will soon arrive by mail and you will be all set to enjoy Garden Stratford’s activities and benefits, including generous discounts at several Stratford-area gardening businesses.

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And finally (drum roll and trumpet fanfare, please): The Annual Spring Flower Photography Sweepstakes. It’s not too early to begin looking for spring blooms (check house foundations where radiating heat sometimes gives snowdrops a jump start), and send a photograph of the first flowers you spot to me at reberg@mac.com. Two photographers (chosen by a random draw) will receive a Garden Stratford membership. Are you already a member? Garden Stratford Memberships make excellent gifts.

Questions? Send me an email at reberg@mac.com. And remember that two metres safe distancing is about equivalent to 10 box turtles walking single file.

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