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Billbergias – Plain and Fancy


During the past few weeks (July / August) numbers of Billbergias have been flowering. Eg “Bobtail Gem”, “Curly Top”, “Oh Joy”, “Striata”, “Super Grace”, “Ellen”, “Pink Champagne”. All of these have colourful attractive foliage with shades of pink and red, green and yellow, spots, stripes and marbling.

However, there have been three others which do not have such attractive features, at least in their foliage viz B. “Violet Beauty”, B “El Nino” and B. Theodore L. Meade”.

When these billbergias are not flowering they are what some people might call “plain” and are not so popular because they have green or “dusky green” leaves that cannot compete with the beautiful foliage of the “ fancy” cultivars listed. But as they flowered in their term I found myself wanting to know more about them because each of the three has its unique appeal.

Billbergia “Violet Beauty” has been around since the early sixties. It is a cross, done by J. Giridlian between B. amoena (speciosa) and B. euphemiae (FCBS web site). Obviously some doubts indicated there. The leaves are pale green, powdered surface on the underside, which are also marked with fine parallel ridges. Derek Butcher comments that this billbergia is “probably a distichia cultivar, hybrid having the typical form and colouration of distichia but with violet colours in the inflorescence”. He also states that there is a striated form (B.C.R.)

Victoria Padilla’s description of B. Violet Beauty” states “Striking blue-green foliage makes a fine foil for the rose bracts and large open violet-petalled flowers”

It is this latter feature, which has persuaded me to keep on growing this plant over the years, and is now one of the things, which has prompted me to put pen to paper. The beauty of violet flowers makes this “plain” plant well worth growing.

Billbergia “El Nino” is a Don Beadle cultivar of rutans v. minima x sanderiana 1979. Don Beadle (U.S.A.) in the Bromeliad Cultivar Registry describes the plant as having “dusky-green to purple leaves with prominent black spines and a pendant inflorescence with large scape and primary bracts in a dusky rose. The petals are clear green with purple pointed tips”. How that makes you mouth water? Don likes the word “dusky” but it is certainly descriptive of the plants uniqueness. A “plain plant?”

Billbergia “Theodore L. Meade” the European hybridiser is J. Giridlian 1954. It is a cross between the species decora and rutans. To use the words of Victoria Padilla it has “spreading soft green pointed leaves” which just about covers it; one of those “plain” plants I have been writing about. Derek Butcher indicates that this billbergia is “identical in all respects to B. Meadii” grown by European growers”.

The large drooping inflorescence has large rose to red bracts and green recurved petals with dark blue margins. A multi-flowered specimen of this bilbergia has been growing in a sunny area where my wife and I have morning tea in the winter and we noticed that the flowers lasted at least a week longer than most other billbergias. A fact, which has been noted by others before us.

Back in the mid seventies we found this plant growing in an old garden on a property, which we rented at Toowong in Brisbane. We discovered that two sisters who were long time members of the Royal Horticultural Society had owned the property. It was one of the plants that first aroused our interest in bromeliads and started us on the journey, which has given us much pleasure. We joined the Bromeliad Society of Queensland in 1981 and a few years later we had a specimen of B. Theodore L. Meade with up to twelve inflorescences in varying stages of growth growing in a rusty drum. I painted up the old drum with silver paint and added it to the B.S.Q. display in the horticultural pavilion at the Brisbane Exhibition. It created a lot of interest and remains a good memory for us. The so called “plain” or even “old” plants of whatever genera of bromeliads are not in favour but the experience that my wife and I have had with these billbergias in recent weeks has reminded us that there is something unique about each plant which can bring enjoyment and interest. By Bob and Mavis Paulsen

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