It struck me the other day that bromeliads don't have a common name. Steve said, "Bromeliad IS their common name," and I was somewhat convinced. Everyone calls them bromeliads. Of course the edible variety is called pineapple and the smallest is called Spanish moss. These names are as common as can be, but the rest are Bromeliaceae -- graeco-roman and prickly.
For many years, I treated bromeliads as the fussiest of potted plants. I would faithfully keep their little 'vases' of inner leaves wet while waiting years for the showy blossoms to appear. Potted bromeliads lined up indoors in a sunny window or outdoors along the edge of the porch. My friend Jerri lived up the street and had a similar, hopeful array. Periodically we would top a healthy-looking plant with a ripe apple, and cover it with a paper bag. Seriously. This was the recommended way to induce blossoming.*
One day while walking in the neighborhood, I picked a large geranium blossom from someone's garden and stuck it in the 'vase' of one of Jerri's barren bromeliads. Then I went home, called her on the phone, and said, "Hey, Jerri, I see your bromeliad is finally blooming. It looks fabulous!" She made a mad dash to her front porch, and then we dissolved in the giggles we shared almost daily.
It seems a bit silly to be preoccupied with getting bromeliads to bloom. Of course it's the kind of challenge a gardener loves, but most bromeliads have such stunning leaves that the blossoms might seem a bit excessive to those of us who share the midwestern WASP orientation. As Garrison Keillor would say: "We can get along without it."
Last winter, Steve and I visited the San Diego Botanic Gardens (formerly Quail Gardens) and were astounded by the number of bromeliads growing in the ground there. I resolved to come home and give it a try. Now eight or ten bromeliads of different colors and sizes are growing around the base of my delightfully spurious mater epiphiticorum tree, which sports a small healthy tillandsia and a fringe of Spanish moss. This part of the garden has become a square yard of tropical splendor, backed by a tall row of flowering ginger and a lush Meyer asparagus fern as well as the little collection of epiphytes. In a couple of months the calla lilies will come back to provide their stately contrast.
Meanwhile, I've finally googled common names for bromeliad. There's Earth Star, Urn Plant, and Flaming Sword listed under Common Bromeliad House Plants -- a misnomer if you ask me. I'll try calling them Earth Stars and see if they, or my garden club friends, respond.
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*An apple-and-bag regimen is still prescribed for bromeliad enthusiasts, using a plastic bag -- presumably transparent -- instead of paper these days. Flowering should begin within six to fourteen weeks [!!!] after the two-or-three-day treatment.