November Plant of the Month -The Imperial Bromiliad

The Imperial Bromiliad is one of the largest and beautiful bromiliads.

Growing to almost 3-4 feet, it does well in full sun or partial shade.

The Imperial Bromiliad (Alcantarea imperialis) is very regal and is one of the giants of the bromeliad family. This Bromeliad grows to a span of more than 1.5 meters, although it can take up to ten years to get to this size. The thick flower spike reaches up to 3.5 meters in height, producing hundreds of slightly fragrant creamy white flowers. The green, slightly ribbed leaves are quite leathery and tough with a distinctive waxy bloom over the surface, giving a bluish coloration from a distance.

This species can withstand relatively cool nights, as it is native to mountains of Teresópolis near Rio de Janeiro at an elevation of about 1,500 meters. There it creates the most spectacular landscape, with near vertical cliffs and rocky outcrops of granite studded with these majestic plants. Each plant establishes its’ own micro habitat, with the gradual build up of humus, mosses and lichens around the root system providing a store of water and nutrients in addition to the reserves held in the copious leaf bases and vases.

Alcantarea imperialis in the wild are becoming increasingly endangered. Initially this was from the destruction of natural areas by encroaching civilization, resulting in large losses of habitat to fire and clearance. Finally as landscapers and gardeners realize that these are dramatic and desirable plants for the garden, tens of thousands of plants are stripped from the wild and sent to the cities, or exported. Worldwide, there has been an explosion of interest in these plants, first popularized by the famous Brazilian landscape architect, Robert Burle-Marx.