Alcantaria imperialis, (syn Vriesia imperialis) a most spectacular bromeliad from Brazil is the biggest bromeliad at present at Wharepuke Subtropical Garden
Imperial Alcantaria belong to the pineapple (Bromeliaceae) family which are native to the Americas from eastern Virginia to the tip of Argentina. Bromeliads occur from sea level to near the snow line, as epiphytes on trees or growing on rocks and in the ground. Some will stand snow and frost, others will only grow in the warmest positions. One other species occurs elsewhere and that is in west Africa.
This species is one of the biggest growing of the bromeliads apart from some in the Puya family which can send flower spikes up to 10metres in height. Alcantaria can get as wide as 1.5 metres across though it doesn’t usually get as big as this if grown as a pot plant.
The flower stem starts slowly to form from the centre of a plant which can be several years olds. The branches carrying the flowers arise out of colourful boat-like bracts which hold copious amounts of water which allows, in its native habitat, many animals and insects to survive. Flowers are spidery-like and mine are a yellowish-cream and open creamy-white. They have a pleasant, soft scent which I didn’t expect. The flowering lasts for several weeks.
I find they can grow in shade or full sun but the colour of the leaves is stronger in full sun. Good drainage is necessary.
Propagation is generally from seed although as the plant grows “grass pups” can arise from around the base of the plant and I find these can be carefully taken off and potted up when about 100mm long.