Arboretum News

Big Bromeliad Blooms

Check out the unusual blooms on the Imperial Bromeliad in the Oswald Visitor Center.

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The delicate bloom from the Imperial Bromeliad (Alcantarea imperialis), on display right now in the Oswald Visitor Center. Photo by Alan Branhagen.

By Liz Potasek

There’s a big bromeliad in bloom right now in the Oswald Visitor Center. The towering plant, an Imperial Bromeliad (Alcantarea imperialis), is estimated to be about 10 years old, and it was brought to the visitor center from an Arboretum greenhouse to show off it’s delicate blooms.

While the Imperial Bromeliad can grow to be quite large, some bromeliads only grow to be a few inches tall. Photo by Alan Branhagen.

Bromeliads are treasured as houseplants and in outdoor pots in the summer for bringing a touch of the tropics to Minnesota’s cool climate. They also come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colors — and have beautiful blooms. “They all bloom and produce unique and interesting flowers,” says Ricky Garza, the greenhouse manager at the Arboretum.

Garza cares for a close to 100 species of bromeliads in the greenhouse. Some of the Arboretum’s bromeliads are on display in the Meyer-Deats Conservatory. Others are cared for in the greenhouses and rotated into the visitor center and other public locations for special displays.

The Imperial Bromeliad is from Brazil where it grows in high elevations on steep cliff faces above Rio de Janeiro, according to Arboretum director of operations Alan Branhagen. “The flower spike forms on mature plants that can be 10 or more years old,” Branhagen says. “The flowers are formed on large inflorescences (Flower spikes) up to 9-feet long and bloom for as long as 5 months. The individual flowers are white with sepals and petals that curl back like a tiger lily. The flower emits a pleasant fragrance that (in the wild) attracts all sorts of birds and insects to pollinate them.”

There are lots of buds still waiting to bloom on the plant. Photo by Liz Potasek.

Most bromeliads grow in trees, but the Imperial Bromeliad grows on rocks. This one is grown in a bark-based growing medium, similar to an orchid, Garza says. Bromeliads need good drainage and regular watering. There’s a small basin in the center of the plant where water is stored. In their native terrain, the small pool of water plays an important role for bugs and frogs. “Bugs and frogs will lay their eggs in these pools and the little larvae and tadpoles develop in them as if it were a little pond,” Garza says.

While beautiful, the flowers usually indicate the end of the plant’s life cycle, Garza says. After flowering, a healthy bromeliad will send up baby plants and the parent plant will die.

Since only mature bromeliads bloom, and they only bloom once, it can be rare to see these blooms on such a large plant — especially in Minnesota. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it in flower and it exceeded my expectations with its intricate flower structure and sublime beauty,” Branhagen says.

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