Plant 271

Vriesea splendens (Brongn.) Lem. (Bromeliaceae)

Flaming sword

This splendid bromeliad was introduced into Europe horticulture in the first half of the nineteenth century. The genus Vriesea commemorates the Dutch botanist Willem de Vriese (1806-1862).

Vriesea splendens is distributed naturally in Trinidad and Tobago, Surinam, Guyana and Venezuela. Here it grows terrestrially, at the base of trees, in the leaf litter of warm, wet and shady forests. More often, it grows as an epiphyte, on the branches of trees where there is dappled light and good air movement. This adaptability to different habitats has helped to make it a popular houseplant.

Typically, Vriesea splendens will reach one metre in height when in flower, with leaves to 80 cm in length. The broad, smooth-edged, green leaves have dark bands. As with many bromeliads, the leaves are arranged in a rosette, forming an 'urn-like' shape, trapping water in the centre of the plant, which creates a microclimate and raises the humidity. Most bromeliads do not like to be waterlogged but do like high humidity, and overwatering can cause rotting at the base of the plant.

From the centre of the rosette a bright red flower spike is produced, which lasts for weeks, and reaches up to 45 cm in height. The flowers themselves are tubular and yellow, emerging from the overlapping scales on the spike. Some vrieseas are night scented and pollinated by night-flying moths and butterflies. Ethylene gas can be used to force bromeliads into flower for a set time. This is useful for commercial growers, who may also use ethylene analogues in the form of a gas, liquid or crystals.

Propagation of Vriesea splendens can be by seeds, but they must be sown while still fresh, as they do not retain their viability. It is quicker to propagate by offsets, which arise either at the base of the rosette or, more often in this species, from the centre of the rosette. Bromeliad offsets are known as 'pups'. One should allow the pups to reach around one third of the size of the parent plant before careful removal. The original rosette dies after flowering and offset production. Vriesea splendens can be seen in the Lily House at Oxford Botanic Garden along with other bromeliad species.

In 2016, detailed analyses of DNA and morphology were used to split the genus Vriesea into nine separate genera. If this is accepted, the correct scientific name for the flaming sword is Lutheria splendens.

Further reading

Williams B and Hodgson I 1988. Growing bromeliads. Timber Press Inc.

Barfuss MHJ et al. 2016. Taxonomic revision of Bromeliaceae subfam. Tillandsioideae based on multi-locus DNA sequence phylogeny and morphology. Phytotaxa 279: 1-97.

Lucinda Lachelin