The plant of the week this week is a oddity, a beauty but still rather unusual. Fascicularia bicolor is one of the only few members of the bromeliad family that, grown correctly, is almost Hardy here in the uk. It has survived winters down to -15c in some parts of the country. It is indeed a related to the pineapple. The Bromeliad are normally found growing in trees, not feeding off them but just using them to support themselves high up in their branches but there’s a few forms like Fascicularia that can be found growing in the ground. It is a native Chile, found on the exposed coastline, under trees in the temperate rainforests and up into the mountains. These conditions do go to show how tough this plant can be.
In our gardens, it is best suited a free draining soil, something like sandy gravelly soil or indeed a thin chalky soil, in both full sun and sometimes deep shade. It makes a great plant to add to a pot or indeed add to a old tree stump. Christopher Lloyd also grew one in the roof at Great Dixter and there’s a great one growing in a stump at a garden I can’t remember.
Indeed there’s some growing up in some Tracocarpus at RHS Wisley. The fact it takes so many different difficult sites within the garden, including under conifer trees, where the soil is dry from the trees sucking up all the moisture, to balconies on high buildings, where they are used to the wind wiping them. Indeed I can never work out why this plant is not more widely grown. The evergreen leaves are very tough and leathery, very hard to break off but they also do have protective hooks on them. They can grow up to 3ft in length if very happy. The leaves around the middle of the plant start turning red at the base if they are going to flower that year. This red centre starts of slowly in late July as the main flower slowly appears and about now are at their fullest with the tiny purple flowers now open. In their native Chile, the Hummingbirds are the main pollinators. It does form a large clump over time and this is how the name Fascicularia comes from, basically means in Latin, clustered together in bundles and again is a really adapt name for it
It is easy to propagate, with the side shoots being taken off (with some root if possible) and potted up into a very gritty potting compost and it should root away well.
There are two main forms Fascicularia bicolor subsp. canaliculata is the form that grows in the temperate rainforests and has longer more toothed leaves while Fascicularia bicolor subsp. Bicolor is the form that prefers the more exposed spaces.
Once again it can be found growing in most good botanical gardens and can be brought from Pan Global Plants and Hardys Cottage Plants
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