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Vriesea splendens (Brongn.) Lem. 1850
pronounced: VREE-zee-uh splen-DENZ
(Bromeliaceae — the pineapple family)
common name: Flaming Sword Plant
Vriesea was named for Willem Hendrik de Vriese (1806-1862), Dutch physician and botanist, who became Professor of Botany at Leiden University and director of its botanic garden. In 1957 he was commissioned to conduct botanical investigations in the Dutch East Indies, and spent the next 3½ years doing research in Java, Borneo, Sumatra and the Moluccas. Although his health was weakened by his travels, and he died a few months after his return home, he published many noteworthy books and treatises on what he had observed there. Splendens is Latin for shining, splendid.
This popular bromeliad hails from Venezuela and Trinidad, Guinea and Suriname. It is often grown indoors. It features a red sword-like flower head that can grow to 60 cm in length. Like other bromeliads, it has a rosette of leaves, and a cup or vase in the centre that needs to be regularly filled with water. In their natural habitat the plant does not need soil, and usually grows on trees. It likes bright light, but not too much direct sunlight.
The stiff wide arching ensiform leaves have a striking zebra appearance, and grow up to about 40 cm long by 3-5 cm wide. There are up to about 20 leaves. The banding of the leaves varies considerably – there are many forms of this plant. The long flower head that rises well above the foliage has bright red overlapping bracts, and has a flat sword blade-like shape. Later on, as many as 24 small tubular greenish yellow flowers emerge from the edges of the sword.
The plant does not flower very willingly, and the gardener needs patience. When the plant is grown from a pup, it will often take several years to flower. The flower can last quite a long time (several months),and when it begins to die, the plant also dies. Pups will be produced either from leaf axils or around the base of the rosettes. These can be repotted (not because they need the soil, but to give them a place in which to be situated). Those arising from the leaves are best left in place, and allowed to grow naturally. They will take over from the parent plant after it has died off.
These are suitable subjects for growing on a bromeliad tree. The roots are wrapped in a ball of sphagnum moss and wired on to a dead branch or a piece of driftwood. They must not be allowed to dry out, and will need foliar feeding.
Photographed in Picnic Bay 2012
Page last updated 13th February 2017