by Greg Jones
|Vrieseas have been
popular horticultural subjects since the early eighteenth century,
probably because they share with all the other
Tillandsioideae genera the distinction of not having leaf spine, making
them attractive to plant enthusiasts who do not enjoy the scratches and
bleeding that can occur with the Bromelioideae and Pitcairnioideae
branches of the Bromeliaceae family. As well as making ideal
garden and greenhouse subjects they also do well as house plants and a
good collection of these garden and greenhouse subjects they also do
well as house plants. A good collection of these plants can
rotated between the garden and the house can result in a great indoor
The Tillandsioideae genera have only minor distinctions. This is particularly highlighted by the fact that Vrieseas are almost impossible to distinguish, without detailed study, from Tillandsias, Guzmanias and the other minor general that make up the TIllandsioideae subfamily. The Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies lists the number of Vriesea species at 119; a number that rises as new species are discovered and falls as other species are moved to different genera, as botanists change their minds about the differences between Vreseas, Tillandsias, Guzmanias and the other minor genera.
For simplicity, Vrieseas can be broken into three groups: the foliage Vrieseas, the flowering Vrieseas and the silver leafed Tillandsia type Vrieseas. Foliage plants tend to have bland coloured but interestingly shaped flower spikes. There are exceptions, with Vriesea splendens and Vriesea glutinosa both having incredible markings and beautiful red floral bracts. Foliage Vrieseas look best when grown as a single plant in a pot where their markings and individual shape may be appreciated. They tend to get lost in a garden without a bright standout flower. Flowering type Vrieseas with their dazzling and long lasting flower bracts have been grown and hybridised for almost two hundred years especially by the Europeans for the cut flower market.
Now there is a vast array of multicoloured plants with multiple bracts that will brighten any garden. Most have soft green leaves while some cultivars may be tinged with pinks, reds and purples, and there are many with variegated foliage. They are best grown in a shady position and appreciate regular fertilising. This results in larger flowers and healthier plants which quickly form clumps that may flower for most of the year.
They grow well either in a pot using a well drained potting mix or planted directly into well drained mulched garden soil. There are so many cultivars available that it is hard to pick favourites. Out of the commonly available plants it is hard to go past the species Vriesea carinata, and the hybrids Purple Cockatoo and White Line, while the diminutive Vriesea gunther Variegata can add colour to the garden.
Until recently, flowering Vrieseas received most of the hybridisers' attention, although many have tried with limited success to create hybrids with both standout flowers and attractive foliage. However, due to the increasing popularity of foliage plants there have been many hybridisers breeding solely to intensify leaf colour and markings, which has resulted in truly amazing plants. In spite of this I feel that Vriesea hieroglyphica still deserves the title of 'King of the Bromeliads' while the many forms of Vriesea fosteriana put on an unforgettable display. The silver leafed Tillandsia type Vrieseas are best treated as Tillandsias by being grown in an airy location mounted on timber or similar substrate. Some may also be grown in a pot, using very coarse potting media such as pine bark chunks. They are not commonly available, except for Vriesea espinosae.
Propagation of Vrieseas by offset or pup removal is not always straight forward and may be divided into three groups: easy, hard and very hard. Pups in the easy group originate in the outer leaves and are easily removed with little damage to parent plant or pup. Large numbers of pups normally result from Vrieseas with this habit. Most flowering type Vrieseas fall into this category as well as the platynema hybrid German clone at right. Pups in the hard group originate toward the centre of the parent plant and do not come off easily until a lot of the parent's leaves have been damaged or removed. There is a high percentage of damaged pups, usually as a result of not clearing enough of the parental leaves to allow a clean removal, and damage to the base of the pup can result. Normally the removal of pups of this type will initiate the formation of replacement pups, resulting in a good number of plants being propagated. Vriesea hieroglyphica is a good example. Pups in the very hard group grow directly out of the parent's stem, right in the centre of the parent plant, and a large portion of this stem must be cut off to get a pup with a base that will grow. For this reason Vrieseas in this category are not often divided and must be grown from seed, as the normally single pup just replaces the parent plant.
As with all Bromeliad pups they are best removed from October till March. They can be removed at any time of the year, but in our colder months they fail to root, and fungal problems may result. Vrieseas are commonly grown from seed for hybridising purposes as well as building numbers of the hard to divide plants but this is a lengthy process with many species taking eight years or more to obtain mature plants. I prefer to grow all my Vrieseas in composted pine bark but any good quality potting mix can be used and orchid mix is very popular. I fertilise fortnightly in the growing season with a quarter strength foliar mix with an N.P.K rating of 12% nitrogen 5% phosphorus 18% potassium 3% sulphur 1% magnesium with trace elements. Any good quality foliar fertiliser is suitable as long as the nitrogen levels are not too high, as this can result in strappy soft new growth. A good fertiliser program results in fast, healthy growth and large plants with large flowers and more healthy pups. Vrieseas as well as needing water in the tank formed by their leaves don’t like the potting mix they are growing in to dry out too much. They should be watered regularly, especially in hot periods, which also keeps up the humidity they need to grow well and look their best. Pests consisting of various scales and mealy bugs are not much of a problem in well cared for Vrieseas and only seem to get out of control in overly dry and stunted plants. Occasionally the centre will rot but except for extreme cases the plant will recover although its growth will be set back. Very few Vrieseas fail to thrive in Sydney’s temperate climate if grown in the shady conditions they need, to provide protection from damaging hot sun and from frosts.