Issue: October 5, 2002

Aechmea fasciata

Question:

I received a houseplant for a gift. It was called something like Ichmia and has really strange looking but beautiful blue and pink flowers. I'm not sure I can spell it correctly, but I was told that it was related to pineapples. It doesn't look like any pineapple I've ever seen. Can you give me some advice about growing it? - E. Thompson

Answer:

It sounds like your gift is Aechmea fasciata. This is a beautiful flowering plant in the Bromeliaceae (pineapple) family. Spanish moss is another member of this family that looks like neither the Aechmea nor the pineapple. It is characteristics of the flowers that result in these plants being in the same family.

The colorful part of your Aechmea is composed of bracts, or modified leaves. That means the plant will remain pretty for a long time. Once the plant finishes flowering and the bracts fade, the whole plant will seem to die. However, there will probably be some small plants, called offsets that develop at the base of the "mother plant". These can be grown to replace the parent and, after becoming large enough, they will also bloom and die. Their offsets will then continue the process.

While the original plant is blooming, water it by putting water in the "well" formed by the tightly grouped leaves. A little water in the soil won't hurt, but the plant takes most of its water from the foliar well. Don't give it concentrated fertilizer in the well. A very-much-diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer can be used to water the plant once a month or so. Dilute the liquid fertilizer to about one-fourth the recommended houseplant concentration.

Once the offsets begin forming, water them in the same manner, but be even more careful when fertilizing. As the offsets grow, you can separate them and pot them separately. Don't cut the stem too closely to the leaves. Cut at the point where the offsets join the parent plant.

Do not let your Aechmea experience temperatures below about 45 degrees. This is a tropical plant, which prefers warm, humid conditions. Even a brief exposure to freezing temperatures can result in the death of the plant. It may help to know that in its native habitat, the Aechmea is an epiphyte that grows on the bark of trees rather than in the soil. The roots serve to anchor it to the bark of these trees, and that is why they are not important for collecting water for the plant.

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Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at desertblooms@nmsu.edu or at https://www.facebook.com/DesertBloomsNM/. Please include your county Extension Agent (aces.nmsu.edu/county) and your county of residence with your question!

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page: desertblooms@nmsu.edu.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.