Pitcairnia bergii

Berg's pitcairnia


Pitcairnia bergii

H.E.Luther 1991

pronounced: pit-KAIRN-ee-uh BERG-ee-eye

(Bromeliaceae — the bromeliad family)


common name: Berg's pitcairnia

Pitcairnia was named for Dr. William Pitcairn (1711–1791), English physician and botanist, and not for Pitcairn Island, as one might expect. Dr. Pitcairn was one of the leading physicians of his age, and served as President of the Royal College of Physicians from 1775–1785. There is, however, a connection between the two. Pitcairn Island, in the South Pacific, later famous as the home of the Bounty mutineers, was an uninhabited island first visited by Captain Philip Carteret of the sloop Swallow in 1767. He named the island after 15-year-old Midshipman Robert Pitcairn, who had been the first on board to sight the island. Poor Midshipman Pitcairn did not survive long enough to reach high rank in the British navy – he was serving in HMS Aurora when she was lost at sea in the Indian Ocean only two years later. Dr. William Pitcairn was his uncle. Bergii was named for Wally Berg (1927–2000), of Florida. Wally and his wife were extraordinary bromeliad growers, their private collection of bromeliads being probably the best in the world. He undertook many collecting trips to Central and South America, and discovered this species in Ecuador.

This genus is the second most prolific of the bromeliad family, after Tillandsia. All of its members come from Central and South America except for Pitcairnia feliciana, which is native to tropical West Africa, and is the only member of the bromeliad family not to come from the New World. Almost all Pitcairnia are terrestrial or saxicolous, although some are found growing epiphytically on trees.

Pitcairnia bergii is terrestrial, and fully or partially deciduous with a thick fleshy, almost tuberous, subterranean rhizome. The very soft-textured, grassy leaves are basally convolute, becoming flattened along their length. They are mid- to soft grey-green with a sparse white to grey velvety covering of fine hairs on their undersides. Between 6 and 8 leaves (rarely more) emerge per growth, and are typically lax, to 40 cm long and 1 cm wide, often creasing under their own weight, especially on plants grown in the shade.

The flower spike is erect or arching, with a defined kink in the rachis, which then grows more or less horizontally. The flowers are typically coral red, to 4 cm long, forming a tube that flares at the tip. They are mainly arranged in a single rank rising on the upper side of the rachis, subtended by 5 cm long soft green, pubescent bracts. After flowering, the old shoot slowly dies away and new side growths develop. This continues throughout winter, eventually forming a stout, rather prickly bud at soil level.

In its native state, this bromeliad is found in only small numbers in a very few small patches spread over a geographical range of less than 5,000 km2. Although the species adapts quite well to road openings, where the plants often form dense groups, it is considered to be an endangered species, due to habitat destruction.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2008, 2010
Page last updated 14th March 2019