Book review: Starting With Bromeliads by the Bromeliad Society of Queensland Inc.

“The most important reason why a home gardener should own a copy of ‘Starting with Bromeliads’ is because within its pages is the wisdom of lived experience of dedicated enthusiasts and collectors. This second revised edition updates essential information for bromeliad culture in the climatically varied Australian state of Queensland, where no season exactly repeats. This easy to read guide is aimed at novice bromeliad growers, and it is a great investment in their successful cultivation and display. Including both general advice for whole collections and specific advice for some of the most popular varieties, this is a handy, practical and affordable guide. “.

Jerry Coleby-Williams RHS, Dip. Hort. (Kew), NEBSM
26th September 2021

Starting with Bromeliads – a guide to the growing of Bromeliads‘. Author: Robert Reilly, updated and published by the Bromeliad Society of Queensland Inc., 2021.

Bromeliads are native almost exclusively to the Americas. The one exception is Pitcairnea feliciana found only in tropical West Africa.

The first bromeliads introduced to Australia were pineapples brought by settlers and planted in the First Farm in Sydney in 1788. Australians have warmed to these bright, beautiful and sculptural plants ever since.

Collectors and breeders have made Queensland into a centre of global bromeliad cultivation, adding many unique and desirable hybrids to the world of horticulture and landscaping.

The last guide I bought was ‘Growing Bromeliads’, written and published by the Bromeliad Society of Australia in 1988. Re-reading it, it is clear we need to periodically update our knowledge about these warm climate perennials.

Back then, there were over 2,000 described wild species. Now there are 3,500 known species and counting. Quite a few members of the Bromeliad Society of Queensland are responsible for this growth in diversity through field collection. Added to these are the 15,000 or so hybrids, firmly planting bromeliads amongst camellias and roses as one of the world’s favourite and most diverse group of plants.

There is now so much to keep in your head, and so many kinds to grow indoors, on your balcony, or in your garden, this guide is a helpful reference to these beautiful and addictive plants.

The first edition of ‘Starting with Bromeliads’ was published by the Bromeliad Society of Queensland in 2006. This revised issue, updated by an expert team of growers and members of the society, is well illustrated.

By comparison, my 1988 old guide relied on line drawings. Colour images are essential for clearly conveying practical information, such as pest identification. Fortunately, ‘Starting with Bromeliads’ reminds us there are only a few pests of concern and how best to deal with them.

This guide is written in plain English. All essential technical terms are explained in the glossary, plus there’s a good list of references for further reading. Focus groups of home gardeners identified the frequently asked questions a guide book needs to answer.

It is vital for a beginner to understand the nuances of bromeliad cultivation. The interaction between temperature, humidity and sunlight intensity and how this affects different groups in different climate zones means this guide is a useful guide even in a botanic garden.

Explaining how much sun is enough and how to modify the growing environment is much needed, because no matter how or why you start growing them, bromeliads will grow on you and soon enough you will find yourself caring for a collection.

Learn which bromeliads need strong sunlight to glow, and which ones will only shine in shade.

Learn how best to feed your bromeliads – did you know some are greedier than others? Or that a little water can go a long way?

This guide reflects changes in technology and materials that have occurred and which can help your bromeliads succeed – like using certain glues to attach plantlets to a supporting branch.

Up until I left England for Australia, a waterproof, indelible marking pen ink was durable on plant labels. In the Sunshine State, pencil is recommended because it doesn’t quickly fade in our stronger sunlight as indelible ink does. Just that basic tip alone could save you a big headache trying to relabel your collection after its first Queensland summer.

Successfully raising bromeliads from seed requires fresh seed. But first you need to overcome the reality that many bromeliads are self-sterile and refuse to self-pollinate. This guide explains how you can become the bee and how to pollinate their flowers. You might even create your very own prize winner just like an expert.

Bromeliads, like their growers, are characters. Within the pages of ‘Starting with Bromeliads’ is much hard earned knowledge, the lived experience of dedicated enthusiasts and collectors. They want to encourage the next generation of bromeliad lovers by releasing a handy, practical and affordable guide. They have succeeded.

Jerry Coleby-Williams
25th September 2021

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