The Aechmea bromeliad, which derive their name from the Greek, "aechme; spear tip," are some of the best known and most widely grown bromeliads.
The leaves grow in a tight, stemless, overlapping rosette that forms a vase which can hold more than a gallon of water. This reserve water supply helps the plant survive during dry periods.
The vase also serves as a catch basin for dust, leaves, bird droppings, insects, and even small animals. In the bush, wise collectors do not stand under an aechmea when removing it from a branch.
The scales on the leaves are more important in absorbing food and water than are the roots. The rather sparse roots are used primarily for anchoring the plant to its branch.
Aechmea chantinii are found growing in the Amazon region high in trees, often in full sunlight. The stiff leaves range from soft green through dark, almost black, red. Some plants have a pronounced silvery banding. The inflorescence is branched and the bracts are orange-red. The fruit is white or pale blue.
Aechmea fasciata, sometimes sold as Billbergia rhodocyanea, is often the first plant in any bromeliad collection. Found on trees in the mountains of southern Brazil, it often has wide green leaves banded with silver. The spiny bracts are pink, and the flowers are lavender-blue. It tolerates colder temperatures than most bromeliads.
Offshoots offer a very easy means of propagation. A large number of distinct, cultivated varieties are available. Aechmea 'Foster's Favorite' has an upright rosette of thin, tough, dark maroon leaves. The flower stem hangs down from the plant and has coral and blue flowers.
Aechmea luddemanniana 'Mend' is found growing on the ground or in the trees of Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. A large plant, it grows from two and one-half to three feet wide. The lavender flowers grow on a two foot, single stalk. The white berries turn purple with age.
Aechmeas do well in any house temperature. They grow in filtered to bright light. They prefer to have their vases always filled with water.
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