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Common name: Matchstick Plant

Botanical Name: Aechmea gamosepala

Family: BROMELIACEAE

MY TOP TIP: This plant is a REAL WINNER if you ARE A BEGINNER.

Bewildering in their variety, AECHMEAS are fancy-dress members of the large PINEAPPLE FAMILY – the BROMELIADS.

WHAT

THIS PARTICULAR AECHMEA – THE MATCHSTICK PLANT is an extremely hardy and versatile plant for warm, frost free gardens and does its glorious flowering thing all through the cooler months; giving a vibrant splash of colour in the winter garden.

WHAT IS SPECIAL ABOUT THIS PLANT? It is an EPIPHYTE – an air-feeder that collects nourishment from water and decaying matter in the upturned cups of its leaves – which means it can be grown in those tricky spots WHERE SOIL IS SCARCE BECAUSE IT WILL THRIVE IN JUST A BED OF WOOD CHIP – it just needs this to anchor it. IT DOES NOT NEED SOIL.

TOP TIP. I have used this, and other bromeliads like it, to great effect in a bed of mulch at the base of a large tree where not much else will grow. It can end up being a real feature with very low maintenance. Next time you are in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney, check out the epiphytic orchids and bromeliads covering the base of the large fig trees. A project from when I worked there in the late 1980’s.

AND THERE IS MORE. This exotic, tropical winter flowering perennial shoots out dramatic spikes of PINKS, PURPLES AND LIGHT BLUES on top of its vibrant green foliage. These are then followed by persistent pink berries. This flowering display goes on for months.

THE LEAVES are smooth and shiny and, unlike many other bromeliads, which make them tricky to deal with, they have have a smooth margin – NO SPIKES.

IT COMES FROM THE TROPICAL PARTS OF SOUTH AMERICA which tells you a lot about where it is going to thrive in our gardens. I have found it to be quite DROUGHT RESISTANT though and happy in a pot that makes a lovely indoor display when it is flowering.

THE BIRDS AND THE BEES

THE FLOWERS OF THIS MATCHSTICK BROMELIAD are a real magnet for birds, bees and other pollinators; they are always humming and buzzing. This Eastern Spinebill is loving having a feast on these nectar rich flowers and is a regular visitor to my garden when this plant is in bloom.

AND, BY THE WAY, this plant does not seem to be susceptible to ANY PESTS AND DISEASES. Are you in love yet?

THIS HONEY BEE spent so long inside this flower I thought it was stuck! This photo also clearly shows why this plant got the common name of matchstick? For the nomenclature nerds, its botanical name of Aechmea comes from the Greek word for spear. Knowing these things always gives a richness to nature and the history of the scientific world – for me anyway.

PROPAGATION

THIS IS THE REALLY EASY PART FOR THIS PLANT PROPAGATES ITSELF. From ONE you will get MANY. The mother plant sends out multiple pups – baby plants – like those in the front of the picture – which can easily be divided and replanted elsewhere.

ONCE A LEAF SET HAS FLOWERED, IT DIES and turns a papery brown – like that on the far left hand side of the picture. If you get the urge to tidy up a clump of these, you can do it by simply pulling out the dead papery parts. I rarely do and they eventually just die down themselves.

USES

  • AS A BORDER in a semi-shade tropical garden. They don’t like intense afternoon sun.
  • IN A ROCKERY and amongst boulders.
  • ITS EPIPHYTIC NATURE lends it to adorning the trunks and clefts of trees with aerial roots clinging to the bark – as in the picture above. You see what I mean about it being drought tolerant – we haven’t had rain for weeks and it is still doing OK.
  • IN A HANGING BASKET.
  • AS AN INDOOR PLANT.

THERE ARE MANY SPECIES OF Aechmea including the fruiting pineapple. Why don’t you start with the easy to grow Matchstick Plant and see which garden path it will take you down?


🌺MORE PLANTS OF THE MONTH🌺

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Jasmine Tea Plant

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