Friday, November 12, 2010

Aechmea Fasciata

Many years ago, my younger daughter asked me which plant I like the best. I told her the “urn plant”, a common name for the Aechmea fasciata, the first bromeliad I ever laid eyes on over two decades ago. I used the common name because the botanical one would have been too difficult for her to pronounce; she was only five at the time. I also used it because I figured it would be easy for her to remember if she ever wanted to “buy a nice plant for mommy” on Mother’s day or my birthday or on any other special occasion.

Anyhow, my daughter never did buy me an urn plant but the name did manage to stick. Not too long ago, when we ran across a group of bromeliads, she pointed to an Aechmea fasciata and said “there’s the urn plant, your favourite”. So you see, I helped her retain the name of the plant that always makes “a very special gift for mom” (mommy is passé). And the urn plant is such a plant in my life; very special.

I don’t know what it is about this plant, the only one that has me paying a hefty amount at the greenhouse without hesitation whenever I decide I have to have one. Perhaps it’s the leathery, green foliage that is covered with grey scales and silver-grey bands. Maybe it’s the durable and striking inflorescence made up of spiky pink bracts and blue flowers that arise from the center of the vase-shaped rosette of leaves. Or simply the combination of both. Whatever it is that does it for me, one thing’s for sure about this outstanding bromeliad that is native to Brazil: I can never tire of it; it’s the king of my plant kingdom.

Aechmea fasciata is an epiphyte that goes by the common names of urn plant and silver vase. It is also one of the most popular bromeliads grown indoors because of its ability to tolerate all the shortcomings that homes have to offer. Although the exotic looks of this plant can be intimidating, making you feel that it must be too difficult to grow, it is surprisingly easy to care for.

In the wild, this plant does not grow in a container, nor does it grow in the earth. Instead, it grows on trees and other substrates that do no qualify as soil. The root system of this bromeliad is not very extensive; its primary purpose is to help anchor it to the host plant. When grown indoors, that small root system is plunged into a container, which makes sense because it’s much more practical than planting a tree in your living room for the bromeliad to attach itself to.

There are two schools of thought on how to water this plant:

1. Water it through the medium.

If you decide to subscribe to this method, bear in mind that the small root system will be extremely susceptible to rot if the medium used is not sufficiently porous and fast-draining. Proper drainage is absolutely vital. Pot up your plant in an airy medium that allows for sufficient air circulation and prevents water logging. Water the compost only when it dries out considerably and then water thoroughly until it runs out of the bottom. Never allow the pot to sit on a saucer full of water; dump the excess right away.

2. Water it through the cup.

Tank style bromeliads, such as this one, can be watered exclusively through their funnel of leaves. If you keep the central rosette (cup) filled with fresh water, you don’t need to concern yourself with the container’s medium. Flush out the cup every 1 – 2 months to remove salt buildup and prevent stagnation, and refill with fresh water.

Its epiphytic nature makes this bromeliad a prime candidate for hydroculture. Remove the plant from its pot, discard as much dirt as you can by hand and rinse the roots under tepid running water in your sink or bathtub to remove whatever traces of soil are left. Massage the root area with your hands to help with the cleaning but don’t be too rough. Once you’re done, pot up in the clay medium and add water to the cup.

The Aechmea fasciata tolerates a broad spectrum of light but prefers to be grown in a brightly lit spot. Although many books, websites and other sources of information recommend that this plant not be exposed to any sunlight, some early morning (eastern) or late afternoon (western) sun does not seem to be a problem. In a southern location, placing the plant a few feet away from the hot midday sun and providing it with filtered sunlight, or moving it out of the direct path of sun is also fine. In any case, reposition your plant to a sunnier or shadier location if it shows signs of discontentment. A low light area will be tolerated for quite some time but the plant will not be at its best and will eventually decline.

Average room temperatures between 15°C (60°F) to 24°C (75°F) are fine but temperatures of 24°C (75°F) and above may be required for the plant to bloom. Humidity levels of 40 to 60 percent are greatly appreciated but difficult to maintain in the average home, especially during periods when air conditioners or heating systems are running. Provide healthy levels of humidity by adding a humidifier near you plant or by placing it on a pebble tray. Incidentally, the plant handles dry air better than most, but do make an effort to increase the humidity, especially in the winter when it plummets.

If your plant is growing in ideal conditions, feed it about once a month with a general liquid fertilizer that is diluted to half strength or less. Do not fertilize during the winter months or if your plant is growing in poor lighting. You can add the fertilizer inside the rosette, apply it through the medium or fill a spray bottle with a very weak solution and mist the leaves lightly.

The Aechmea fasciata growing in my living room has produced three offshoots (pups), which are growing happily next to mom. With three new plants on the way (and possibly more), it’s easy to justify having paid a little extra to bring one of these lovely bromeliads home. And when those pups grow up, they’ll make their own babies, and so on, and so on...

So don’t let the higher price tag discourage you. This easy-to-grow, gorgeous specimen is worth every penny, both in the long and short term.

4 comments:

  1. Maybe that's why mine's never rebloomed; temperatures above 75F/24C don't happen in here very often. I knew there had to be something.

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  2. Could be, although one of mine did bloom last year. I suppose it happens now and again when one of these plants doesn't do what it's supposed to do - like not flower without the right temperatures. But the rest of these plants in my home - and I have quite a few of them - have never flowered. They keep making babies and stuff, but no flowers.

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  3. I have a beautiful silver vase which produced two pups about 6 months ago. Once they were big enough, I cut off and replanted the pups. It has been about a month and a half since I repotted the pups and they still havent rooted. They are beginning to dry out and wilt. Any suggestions??

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  4. Hi anonymous, these plants usually take awhile to root, so it's not unusual that they haven't yet. But, they shouldn't have been drying out and wilting. Make sure you keep the plant's vase full of water, and spray mist them often to keep them hydrated. Then hope for the best.

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