Plants go in and out of fashion just like clothing. I can remember being absolutely fascinated with Billbergia nutans when I first saw one during the 1980’s. This Brazilian native seemed so exotic. Its graceful arching stems held the most delicate of flowers as if they were jewels. The vibrant shades of blue, yellow and pink all coming together in flowers that were reminiscent of a woman’s long dangling earrings and echoed the violently clashing color of the decade. That is was epiphytic, I thought, made it even more cool because it was about the same time that I had finally purchased a copy of Graf’s ‘Tropica’ with its page after page of exotic plants from all over the world. These epiphytes, plants that grew in trees but were not parasitic, were all so unfamiliar. They needed no soil in which to rest their feet, but rather would cling to the bark of trees. Some had vase-like reservoirs that helped take advantage of the tropical rainfall and solve the problem of where to store the water if there was no soil to keep it in. Their leaves were often fleshy, waxy, stiff and often spikey. Some, like this Billbergia would have blooms that would last for over a month at a time from first blush to their final fade out. They were everything that marigolds and petunias were not and I loved them.
They were easy to grow in the Southern California garden, being able to withstand minimum low temperatures between 30-32 degrees. Their common name, “Friendship Plant’ was due to the fact that they gave off so many pups which could be given away to friends. They were very easy to root and almost as prolific as zucchini. It seemed like their prolific nature was as likely to endear friends as it was to make them run when they saw you coming. But then I moved up the coast and had to leave most of my plants behind. Tropical plants like bromeliads seemed to fall out of favor and cottage gardens hit the stage. The look was for plants that were flowing and softer in appearance. Borders were the craze. Then California went through several years of drought and we all learned what xeriscaping really meant. Drought tolerant plants and native plants held the spotlight for many years as we tried to continue to garden in the desert.
As with all trends, however, things come back. I’ve started seeing skinny leg jeans again and bright colored shirts. I’ve also started to see more tropicals. And wouldn’t you know it, just last week an order of Billberia nutans hit the shelves. It felt like old times. I was reminded of all the reasons I loved the plants in the first place. Perhaps it is time for a little garden reunion.
This post is in participation of a blog carnival of epiphytic plants hosted by Steve at The Rainforest Garden. Check out Steve’s blog for cool information on tropical plants and more entries in the carnival.