Billbergia: Inside and Out
Author: Celeste Booth6 Comments
Billbergia is 1 of the 40 genera of bromeliads. It is comprised of about sixty species that are primarily native to Brazil. While Billbergia are most commonly found in Brazil, their range extends from central Mexico to northern Argentina. Its unique adaptations make it especially appropriate for outdoor landscape plants in moderate climates.
The genus is divided into two subgenera helicodea and billbergia. The subgenera billbergia is most commonly found in cultivation. The difference between the two subgenera can be seen in their flowers. Helicodea petals coil back like a spring and billbergia petals bend back slightly at the tips.
Billbergia were first introduced in the United States in 1897. However, they weren’t popularized until 1940 when Mulford Foster began collecting and hybridizing the genus. Since then they can be found in home collections and landscapes throughout the United States.
Billbergia are primarily epiphytic species. They grow comfortably attached to trees and shrubs. A few grow among rocks. While Billbergia grow naturally attached to a substrate, they will also grow terrestrially.
Billbergia can be planted in small pots with well draining, slightly acidic soil. Bromeliad Society/Houston suggests using a mixture of vermiculite, perlite and Canadian peat for growing potted Billbergia. Alternatively, the plants can be mounted on a substrate such as driftwood.
Billbergia range in size from 8 inches tall to 36 inches tall depending on the species. Smaller species will grow well in a small 4 inch pot. Larger species will grow in a pot up to 6 inches. Billbergia are prolific producers of pups or offshoots. These pups can be repotted or allowed to clump. If you choose to let the pups clump, you should start with a slightly larger container. Six inches should be about enough.
Billbergia will tolerate a wider range of temperature than many other bromeliads. This makes them an ideal choice for outdoor landscapes in climates that don’t regularly experience hard frosts. Billbergia can withstand temperatures down to 26 degrees for short periods of time. The plant will tolerate even colder temperatures but may sustain some damage. Temperatures that soar into 100 degrees or more may cause the plant to loose color, but the plant will usually recover in more moderate temperatures. Bromeliad Society/Houston inform that bromeliads will grow the best and be the most colorful when there is a 10-15 degree temperature drop at night.
Billbergia also thrive when there is plenty of air circulation around them. Again, this makes them a good choice for landscaping. Having fresh air helps the plants avoid fungal infections and pests.
Water and Humidity
Billbergia do not require much water, but they do like high humidity. The potting medium should feel dry when touched between each watering. You can also add water to the central tank. Use distilled water or rain water to avoid mineral buildup on the leaves. The tanks should also be regularly flushed and rinsed to avoid stagnate water. Stagnate water can result in pests and disease.
If your plant is growing indoors and there is not enough humidity, you can place a tray of marbles with a bit of water in it underneath the container holding the plant. This should slightly raise the relative humidity around the Billbergia. Make sure the potting medium is not allowed to soak up any of the water.
It is best not to fertilize Billbergia. Too much fertilizer may cause the leaves to turn green instead of having colorful variegation. Fertilizer that is strong in nitrogen will also encourage the plant to grow without producing a flower.
Shape and Form
Billbergia come in many shapes, sizes and colors. Their leaves either stand up to create a sort of tube shape or spread outward to make a central cup with their rosette. Billbergia often also have fewer leaves than many other genera of bromeliad. Most Billbergia leaves also have spikes around the margins. The foliage comes in many different colors and variegations.
Billbergia flowers are particularly showy, though not as long lived as many other genera of bromeliad. They are usually found on a flower stalk that emerges from the central tank. The stalk or scape either stands upright our droops in a pendant form. The inflorescence and flowers come in many different colors from reds and pinks to purples and blues.
The characteristics of Billbergia species can often be determined by their scientific name. Penrith Goff of the S.E. Michigan Bromeliad Society gives this list of scientific names and descriptions:
vittata means “striped” or “banded,” zebrina “like a zebra,” maculata “spotted,” chlorosticta “dotted with green,” marmorata “marble-like,” horrida “rough, bristly.” Rosea and decora describe the colorful bracts.
nutans “nodding,” pyramidalis “pyramidal” (as opposed to the usual scattered array of flowers), leptopoda “thin-stemmed,” filicaulis “thread-like stems.”
You can see from the various names that Billbergia come in an array of colors, shape and form.
There are several popular Billbergia varieties. The following is a list of Billbergia varieties that would be an excellent addition to any bromeliad collection:
Billbergia nutans has green to silvery green leaves that stand upright to make a sort of vase before dropping over. The plant can grow up to 2 feet tall and a foot wide. It has beautiful flowers that hang in pendant form. The inflorescence is typically varying shades of pink. The flowers often drip a nectar when touched, giving this plant the common name “queen’s tears.”
Billbergia ‘Casa Blanca’ is recommended for beginner bromeliad growers by Tropiflora. The plant has deep green leaves that are covered in beautiful white mottling. The leaves stand straight up creating a tube shaped rosette. The inflorescence is erect with pink bracts a bluish flowers.
Billbergia pyramidalis is an excellent landscape plant. It is very cold tolerant and requires very little care. The plant clumps readily and will grow in shade or full sun. The amount of sunlight will affect the color of the leaves. It produces full, rounded pink and purple flowers during late summer. These flowers will last roughly a month.
Billbergia saundersii will blush reddish pink in full sun areas. In partial sun the leaves are deep green with white spots. The plant grows about a foot tall. It produces spectacular pendant inflorescence with pink bracts and blue and white flowers.
Billbergia zebrina is a unique plant. Its name comes from the silvery horizontal banding on the foliage. The plant produces a large pendant flower with pink bracts and has tightly recurved bright green petals. This plant is also commonly referred to as “queen’s tears.”
Adding to Your Collection
Billbergia are great indoor or outdoor landscape plants. Their cold hardiness makes them less risky to plant outdoors than many other bromeliads. Their ability to clump and climb substrates such as stumps also make them fun outdoor plants. Billbergia will tolerate just about any amount of sunlight and will usually survive a neglectful owner. As long as your climate doesn’t have regular heavy frosts Billbergia will grow prolifically in a landscape setting.
If you need in easy plant with beautiful, bright flowers, consider adding Billbergia to your bromeliad collection.
“Billbergia” Bromeliad Society/Houston. <http://bromeliadsocietyhouston.org/genera-intro/billbergia>
“Billbergia ‘Casa Blanca” Tropiflora. <http://www.tropiflora.com/shop.cfm?page=display&ProductID=57186&CategoryID=46&SubcategoryID=355&iPageNbr=4&src=cats>
“Bilbergia Cultural Information” Garden Webs. <http://bromeliads.gardenwebs.net/billbergia.culture.htm>
“Billbergia pyramidalis” Grower Jim. <http://growerjim.blogspot.com/2010/08/billbergia-pyramidalis.html>
“Billbergia saundersii” Grower Jim. <http://growerjim.blogspot.com/2010/11/billbergia-saundersii.html>
“PlantFiles: Queen’s-Tears, Friendship Plant, Hardy Queen’s Tears, Hardy Friendship Plant Billbergia nutans” Dave’s Garden. <http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/2116/#ixzz2Nfkp24UZ>
Sunshine Coast Bromeliad Society Inc. <http://www.scbs.org.au/articles.html>
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