Plant Collector: bilbergia

Bilbergia flowering in the winter woodland

Bilbergia flowering in the winter woodland

On a chilly mid winter day, there is nothing more exotic than a bilbergia flowering in the garden. It is a bromeliad, in case you can’t recognise it, and bromeliads can flower through winter when they look impossibly out of context and wonderfully bizarre.

Easily the world’s best known bromeliad is the pineapple, introduced to Europe from South America by none other than Christopher Columbus. All bromeliads are native to the Americas from Virginia south to the northerly reaches of Argentina, with most bilbergias coming from Brazil.

We have never had names on our bromeliads. This one may be Bilbergia distachia – although equally it may not. There are a fairly large number of species and named cultivars to choose from. Bilbergias often have quite a deep cone of foliage and their flowers are pendulous. The downside is that the flowers usually only last a few weeks instead of the months of some other types.

We like them through our evergreen woodland areas which remain frost free. Most are epiphytic, holding water in their vase shaped leaf rosettes and they are a really easy care plant. In more shaded areas, the foliage tends to become more muted but a plainer green backdrop highlights the exotic flowers wonderfully well.

Collecting bromeliads can become quite addictive. If you get keen, there are two comprehensive books on the topic by NZ author, Andrew Steens. Bromeliads for the Contemporary Garden will get you started, then you progress to Bromeliads, The Connoisseur’s Guide. We have a strong preference for using them in mixed plantings so there is not a whole stretch of just bromeliads looking spiky and alien. We find they combine well with clivias, ferns, orchids and other lush shade loving plants which provide a foil to show off their exotica.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.