All across deserts from Texas to Brazil, xerophytic terrestrial bromeliads gleam in a rainbow of colors, defiantly contrasting the bleak desolation of their environment. Unlike their epiphytic cousins, terrestrial bromeliads have dug their roots into the earth, developed fierce spines, and formed thick, water-storing leaves to cope with their habitats. There are an astonishing amount of bromeliad species, but this article will focus on four genera; Dyckia, Hechtia, Orthophytum and Deuterocohnia.
Terrestrial bromeliads are not true succulents; they do not contain water storage organs. They respond to dry periods with dormancy, and special cells called trichomes help shield them from the ultraviolet radiation and protect them from dehydration. Even after wilting, most terrestrial bromeliads will snap back after a deep watering.Contributing to this article is Ray Lemieux, a veteran succulent grower. He specializes in growing and hybridizing terrestrial bromeliads, and has created many interesting registered hybrids such as Dyckia ‘Milky Way’ & ‘Sidewinder,’as well as xPulirium (Puya x Encholirium) ’Quicksilver’ and the first bigeneric hybrid of its type: xEnchotia (Encholirium x Hechtia) ‘Ruby’.
The Dyckia genus contains 120 species and many different hybrids.
They are found mostly in arid regions of South America. Dyckias can range in size from several inches across to massive two foot diameters. They are among the more cold tolerant of the family, but cannot withstand an entire winter of freezing temperatures. Dyckias respond well to regular watering and fertilizing during the summer growing period, tapering off greatly during the winter.
When growing by river beds in habitat, these plants can survive immersion for months during the rainy season! Dyckias love full sun, and their coloring will reflect their appreciation. They can range from almost black to red, green, and silver. The flower scape can be anywhere from a few inches to a few feet, and the multiple flowers range from yellow to red.
Many dyckias will flower for several seasons. When cultivated in a pot, they can quickly colonize the entire surface, making overhead watering difficult. When this occurs, soak the pot in a tub in order to water from the bottom up. Propagation can be achieved by division when well armed with heavy gloves and a sharp knife.
Medium growing Dyckia (up to 12 inches diameter) with lavender recurving leaves covered in silver spines.
DYCKIA HYBRID 'ARIZONA'
Small to medium hybrid (up to 8” diameter) with prominent white spines against deep red to magenta leaves. Tight, beautiful rosette. Tall flower scape covered in orange flowers. Great for pot culture.
DYCKIA MARNIER LAPOSTOLLEI
12” solitary rosette of wide, triangular silver to white leaves that curl and twist at the ends, covered with silver spines. Requires regular watering in the spring and summer.
DYCKIA HYBRID 'BLACK'
Large clumping hybrid with deep red to purple to black leaves. Multiple flower scapes covered with orange flowers. Great for landscape in the appropriate zones or large pots.