Searching for unique and exceptional plants that could be worthy complements to the striking and curvilinear architecture of a client’s home in Carlsbad, I visited Rancho Soledad Nursery in rural Rancho Santa Fe/CA. This grower specializes in unusual specimens and is responsible for many exciting plant innovations in the plant world.
The plants that I was after would also need to fit other important requirements: They needed to be non-fussy plants, fitting into a home landscape design, and be low water landscape plants.
After describing to Eric, one of the sales managers there, what I was after, he led me to a group of plants that grabbed my fantasy immediately: All had a round form of fleshy, almost leathery leave rosettes reminiscent of a pineapple plant; some had dreamy marbling and textures on their leaves while others stood out by their foliage color. Some would bloom repeatedly, and others would develop majestic flower “inflorescences” that would stand out in any garden for months. What were these, I inquired, and what were their growing requirements?
Eric explained to me that these subtropical plants were terrestrial bromeliads, relatives of the Pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), native to the Americas from the southern United States all the way to the tip of Argentina, and growing from near sea level up to 14,000 feet. The ones that grow in the open on rocks or in soil are very drought resistant plants. (Other ones called epiphytes grow on trees, and then there’s a genus of bromeliads called Cryptanthus that is not drought tolerant.)
Because of their striking, sometimes spectacular form these bromeliads would make great additions to any modern garden design with their forms ranging from small prickly agave-like plants, to spectacular basal rosettes open to the sky; some have narrow pointy, spiny-toothed leaves, others grow strappy ones like a New Zealand Flax, only with a softer, more arching and less stern appearance.
Some produce drooping clusters of showy bracts and tubular flowers; others send out an upright stalk decorated with the most striking and brightly colored inflorescence that makes a giant focal point in the landscape. All are easy to grow, requiring well-drained soil and only average watering; it is important for water to collect in the cups or center of the rosettes.
As the Cactus and Succulents Society of America recommends, “Division of rosettes is the standard method of propagation, though of course new hybrids must be started from seed-it’s fun to plant seeds and see what develops. Some plants cluster very quickly and can give the grower a real problem when it comes time to divide or re-pot them. I recommend a pair of long leather gloves (sometimes sold as “rose-pickers”) and a sharp knife plus some sort of pry-bar. Weeding around them is best done with the “cactus-grabber” (actually a fishhook-disgorger) that most of us who grow spiny plants have bought in self-defense. The plants do not seem to be subject to many pests or diseases, though some from Brazil, as mentioned above, may be sensitive to low temperatures. Many are really beautiful and a great asset in the plant collection. “
Bromeliads have great color, ranging from grey to bronze to almost black; other ones sport blades or straps from chartreuse-green to orange to flaming red. Some of them can tolerate bright hot sun (that actually brings out their flaming color) while others ones prefer the shade, perhaps under a canopy of a tree, or even on the northside of a house, under the eaves.
These xeriscape plants are entirely compatible with succulents and other drought resistant plants in low water landscaping. In the design that I was preoccupied with they would make exceptional companions to the other architectural plants, such as the exotic looking Silk Floss Tree Ceiba speciosa and the bold Small Cape Rush Chondropetalum tectorum…
Since I have a penchant for extravagance and am always on the look-out for unusual plants, I’m happy that with these Bromeliads I have found a group of plants that will grab anybody’s attention. With their resilience in hot sun or dry shade and their low maintenance or water needs, they seem to fit the sustainable landscape design needs. And with their strong form, their intriguing coloring and exciting textures they make upstanding elements of any landscape design that wants to stand out and hold your attention for a long time.
I’m happy that these plants seem to fit the needs of any lover of plant exotics AND plant lover the bill of any sustainable landscape design and since I have a penchant for extravagance, I’m sure I’ll be using these whenever They fit into my , are tough and beautiful, and that integrate well into the sustainable landscape design. Since they perform so well in tough spaces, hot sun or dry shade, I’m sure to see more of these in my designs and expect them to perform well in difficult places, whether tough hot spots or dry shade.
I’ll describe some of these in the 2nd part of my post “The eye-catching bromeliad – No tenderfoot in the drought resistant landscape”.
You can admire many beautiful terrestrial bromeliads at these locations:
The Botanical Building (or Lath House) at Balboa Park, San Diego, features many shade loving bromeliads.
Here’s where I photographed most of these bromeliads:
Rancho Soledad Nursery, Rancho Santa Fe, CA
A Glorious Garden Garden and Design Center, Encinitas