Bromeliads: Apricot Sun, Pele's Hair-Aechmea blanchetiana, Tillandsia usneoides
4 things you may not know about these Kauai plants
1. What is it? Bromeliads are members of the Pineapple family. They are tropical or sub-tropical and most are epiphytes, meaning they don’t need soil to grow, extracting nutrients from the rain and humidity. The roots of the plant work as the plants anchor, attaching to either rocks or tree branches without harming the host. The Aechmea is called a tank plant because the rosette of leaves catches water like a reservoir, holding up to 2 gallons in larger plants. This plant typically averages around 2-3' in size, made up of whorled lime green, orange, and yellow razor sharp leaves. It is quite a specimen plant. The flower spike emerges from the center of the rosette and is a very showy red and yellow, 2-3 feet in length. The Tillandsia we use is also more commonly known as “Spanish Moss” or “Pele’s Hair” in Hawaii. It is also a bromeliad but looks unlike the others. Also epiphytic, doesn't need any encouragement to quickly get going in any tropic-like landscape. I started out with a small piece and now all of my trees have beards!.
Forest & Kim Starr-starrenvironmental.com
2. Where did it come from? Bromeliads are native to the Atlantic Coast of central and South America. The first bromeliad to arrive here in the early 1900's was of course the pineapple, also known in Hawaiian as “hala kahiki,” meaning “foreign fruit.” Typically, bromeliads grow very easily and are primarily utilized as bedding plants. Reproduction is by offsets-the small keiki plant sprouts alongside the mother plant usually just after flowering has occurred. The flowering plant generally dies after flowering leaving room for the next generation. As far as other uses for these plants, the Apricot Sun’s fiber has been used for cordage. Pele’s Hair in Hawaii has been used for lei, and traditional native uses include brewing as a tea to treat fever and chills, as an wound healer, stuffed into mattresses, added for strength in fire-tempered pottery, in clay for plastering walls, as animal fodder, by birds for nests, and more contemporarily in flower arrangements. The live moss has also has shown promise in encouraging a cancer cell growth inhibiting microbe.
3. When is the best time for collecting? Flowering happens 2 times per year generally February-April and July-October. I cut and dry them when fully mature both before and after they start to turn brown. They retain some pinks when dry if picked before they have weathered too much. Pele’s Hair can be gathered all year. I let it air dry before using and never store in an airtight container if not thoroughly dry, because it will mold.
4. How are the collected plant parts used? I don’t know if others use the dried flower spikes, but they can be used in arrangement either dried on fresh. I used them as an adornment on both baskets and pouches. The moss can be used in a multitude of ways. I use it as an accent on the Bud Vases, and as hair on both the Hawaiian Tree Topper Angel and the Kauai Angel Christmas ornaments.
*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.