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Billbergia pyramidalis (Sims) Lindl. 1827
pronounced: bill-BERG-ee-uh pih-ruh-mid-AH-liss
(Bromeliaceae — the bromeliad family)
common name: Foolproofplant
Billbergia was named for Gustav Johannes Billberg, (1772–1844), a Swedish botanist, zoologist and anatomist: professionally and by training he was a lawyer, and science and biology were his hobbies; pyramidalis means ‘like a pyramid’.
The genus, originating in temperate south Brazil, has rosettes of leaves that usually form a tubular, or urn-shaped, upright growth. There are normally five to eight leaves. Propagation is generally done by taking rooted offsets (‘pups’) from the original plants. These offsets occur from the rhizomes at the base of the leaves. The ‘pups’ are left on the plant until they reach at least a third of the height of the original urn, as very young ‘pups’ rarely develop roots. The thin leaves are leathery, dark green, and broad. They form a very beautiful open-vase shaped rosette. The inflorescence is an erect cluster of scarlet flowers with bluish tips bursting out of red bracts.
In their natural habitat, they grow low on trees, and in the leaf litter on the ground; they also grow on rocks in the heavy shade of forest trees.
Bromeliads handle life differently from other plants. Most are epiphytic, their roots being little more than supports. Their leaves do most of the work. In areas where rainfall is high, but seasonal, the leaves form a tank to collect and hold moisture. These tanks also catch the leaves discarded by the trees towering over them. As the detritus decays, the bromeliad leaves absorb the nutrients. In desert areas, the leaves are equipped with scales to catch dust and dew. Bromeliads are adapted to make do with few resources, and they do it very well. They have the same chemistry as cacti. They fix carbon dioxide at night, storing it as malic acid. When the sun rises, it is released and converted to sugars.
If growing these plants in the garden, it is best to plant them in deep or partial shade, on or under trees so they can catch the fallen leaves. Billbergia pyramidalis is one of the hardier bromeliads. It is a very common garden plant in Sydney.
The variety concolor (Latin for ‘of the same colour’) has a number of differences from the parent plant, in the flowers and the leaves. The flowers are lacking the purple tips of the type variety, being more or less the same red colour throughout, although some growers maintain that there is always a tinge of purple there, however faint it may be. The cultivar has a rosette that is shaped like a bird’s nest and consists of broad glossy apple-green leaves. From the centre appears the showy but short-lived inflorescence.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2008-2014
Page last updated 11th October 2016