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My Tillandsias are freezing.

Editor's note: Many growers dream of visiting bromeliad homelands to seek out their native habitats and hopefully gain some insight into how to grow them in cultivation. This article is a good illustration of one such trip to northwest Argentina, and the author's conclusion regarding Tillandsia tectorum cultivation is certainly correct. However, there are a couple of points that could mislead the novice grower. You may get the impression from the article that all bromeliads native to Argentina are frost hardy in cultivation--whilst many endure freezing temperatures, they are not necessarily able to withstand direct frost (particularly successive days of it without a significant rise in daytime temperature). A friend of mine, Chris Larsen from Melbourne (Australia) had an interesting experience collecting tillandsias in nw Argentina, and I have included some notes from Chris after this article. Also, T. tectorum has not been recorded as growing in Argentina, only in Ecuador and northern Peru: however in cultivation it can be treated similarly to the grey-leafed Argentinian tillandsias mentioned in this article.

I've been growing Bromeliads for about 35 years. I know, as most Bromeliad growers know, that almost all of our plants are native to South America. Of course, we all know that South America is full of tropical rain forests and eternally warm humid growing conditions. So why have I managed to kill off numerous Tillandsia tectorums, a plant that most people say is indestructible? I guess I'm hardheaded ... it took a trip to Argentina to find out.

Argentina conjures up things like soccer teams and the Tango; we think of a big city like Buenos Aries. But Argentina is all of these things and more, and most certainly less. It's the eighth largest country in the world, just slightly smaller than India and stretches from the tropics (almost anyway) in the north to near Antarctica. It was surprising to me to find out that almost all of Argentina is subject to freezing with the possible exception of the extreme northeastern provinces adjacent to Brazil and Uruguay. Much of the country is dry especially the farther west you go. Elevation also increases steadily in the Andes mountains to some of the highest peaks in the Americas. The terrain is flat to hilly to downright mountainous, and with rainfall steadily decreasing; the scenery is that of a high desert strewn with rocks and boulders of all colors and shapes.

In the last two weeks in November, wife Mary and I traveled with a group of cactophiles from Cordoba (roughly in the middle of the country), northwestward towards the Andes and the Bolivian border. The elevation ranged from about 1,700 feet in Cordoba to over 12,000 feet on the Puna in the far north. (The Puna or Altiplano is a cool to cold, semi-arid to arid, high plateau area in the central Andes occupying parts of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.) Of course, in the southern hemisphere November is like our June with Spring rapidly changing into Summer. Temperatures ranged from 75-90 degrees F. during the day to 55-60[degrees] at night.

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According to the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies database, Argentina hosts about 132 species of Bromeliads in 13 genera. Most prominent of these are Tillandsia (71 species, including varieties) and Puya (12 species). Despite their size, I have taken a special interest in Puyas over the last several years partly due to their cold hardiness.

Immediately on leaving Cordoba, we began to see Tillandsias. Although I razzed our cactus growing friends that most of the plants they saw fell into one or two general types with not a lot of differences, I had to admit that many of the Tillandsias we saw were quite similar, but we also saw Deuterocohnia brevifolia and D. lorentziana growing in gigantic clumps 30-40 feet across and masses of Dyckia floribunda, D. velascana, and D. ferox covering steep, rocky hillsides. [see front cover -Ed.]

Our first Puya, was observed just northwest of Cordoba. Very widespread in the 2000-3,500 foot range is one of my favorites, Tillandsia duratii. The native plants did not seem have the intense curling of the leaves we see on many cultivated plants, but they grow on many hosts including the numerous large Tricocerus cacti. Some of my favorites were Tillandsia bryoides, (one of the smallest Tillandsias, and in full bloom), T. duratii, T. peiranoi, T. reichenbachii (the latter three with highly fragrant flowers), T. didisticha and the spectacular Bromelia serra. T. peiranoi is rarely available to be purchased from nurseries. It grows only on the sides of sheer cliffs, so you can't collect it wityhout being lowered down in a basket. I was lucky to have found a clump of the white flowered form, T. peiranoi var.alba, growing on a top edge of a plateau.

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We did find a single Pitcairnia, growing on a steep riverbank, a typical location for them. I think I found a Neoglaziovia growing amidst short, thorny shrubs in very sandy soil. However, most bromeliad sources state it is endemic to Brazil. I managed to take a few pups so we'll see.

All these plants endure freezing temperatures every year - and survive and thrive. Oh, did I forget the cacti? If you are in love with them, then you must see northwest Argentina. Although it is generally dry, northwest Argentina is a Mecca of wineries (bodegas) and olive plantations. The wine is quite good and very inexpensive by our standards. With massive plantings of vineyards and olive trees, Argentina has now become a major world exporter of wine and olives.

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Yes, bromeliads are tropical plants, at least by a common consensus. But "our" plants in Argentina routinely survive both frost and arid conditions. The key to growing anything is to mimic what Mother Nature provides, and now I know why I've killed so many T. tectorums (and a few others). I've been killing them with kindness, providing too much moisture for many of them, and especially letting them stay wet overnight.

David Christiano, Springfield, Missouri. Reprinted from Bromeliana 46, No. 2.
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Title Annotation:Cultivation
Author:Christiano, David
Publication:Journal of the Bromeliad Society
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Words:1016
Previous Article:Neoregelia 'Perdita'.
Next Article:Notes on cold tolerance in cultivation.
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