Neoregelia spectabilis  (T.Moore) L.B.Sm.  1934

pronounced: nee-oh-reg-EL-ee-uh speck-TAR-bill-iss

(Bromeliaceae – the bromeliad family)

common name:  Fingernail Plant

Neoregelia is from the Greek νεος (neos), new, and for Eduard August von Regel (1815-1892), German botanist who was superintendent of the botanic garden at St Petersburg, Russia; compactus is, of course, Latin for compact.

This genus is a native of Brazil, where there are about 90 species of the plant. Over and above those, there are hundreds of hybrids, with an amazing variety of size, form and colour. They range from the very large, almost statuesque bromeliads to the squat and colourful ones seen in the tropics, such as the one described here.

For optimum growing conditions, they prefer indirect light or moderate shade, although they can be acclimatized to higher light levels. They like their central cup always to be supplied with water, but not too much: the water should be changed regularly with clean water to prevent smells and bacteria. Soil does not really matter, as they are technically air plants that only use their roots for support.

If you are applying fertilizer, do so in the central cup. Over-fertilizing will cause the plant to lose colour.

Neoregelia, like all bromeliads, spread by producing offsets around the bases of mature plants. After the mature plant has flowered, it will gradually die back as the pups take over. These pups can be potted in separate pots, although mature bromeliads should not be potted.

Neoregelia spectabilis, under its former name of Nidularium, was first described by T. Moore in 1873. At the time he wrote, “N. spectabile was imported by Mr Bull from the interior of Brazil, and flowered in his establishment in December, 1872. It is a very striking plant and may at once be recognized from any species hitherto cultivated in England, by the singular bright blood-red ends of the leaves, which form a clearly defined and singular contrast both to the bright green of the upper surface and the dull green of the lower surface of the leaf.” The plant had certainly reached Australia by the 1960s, in the days when species were abundant and hybrids rare. It probably came here direct from Brazil, although some plants may have come via the USA.

Some plants have a distinct barring on the lower surface of the leaves, and these are prized.

This unusual plant is an evergreen, rosette-forming perennial with strap-shaped leaves, the tips being brightly painted in crimson, hence its common name. Dense clusters of tubular blue flowers are borne in the centre of the rosette in summer.

Photographed in Wansfell Street, Picnic Bay, 2010

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