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The Bromeliad Family - Bromeliaceae

The bromeliad family is one of the real jewels of the New World. It is a relatively young family that has only had one species 'escape' and colonize outside of the North and South American continents (via long distance seed dispersal).  Found in both the tropics and subtropics it has species ranging as far north as the southeastern US and down south through most of South America.


The most popular and tasty species is the pineapple (Ananas comosus), a fruit first 'discovered' by Christopher Columbus although it had been long cultivated by various groups throughout the tropics. The pineapple is actually a berry! So next time you cut one to eat, look and see if you can see where the pieces of the berry are fused and how it does look a little like a blackberry!


The family also includes 'Spanish Moss' (Tillandsia usneoides).  That part of the family is also a very large and diverse group that covers the whole distribution range of the family.  The genus Tillandsia, is one of my favorites! It ranges from the small (and already mentioned) Spanish Moss to larger and much more flamboyant plants like the one to the left. Mexico is one of the centers of diversity of these awesome plants.

The bromeliad family is so diverse that it also has spiny, succulent terrestrial plants that fit right in with the agaves and cacti! In Mexico, it is the genus Hechtia (another one of my personal favorites), that fills this niche. It is almost entirely a Mexican genus with only one species barely reaching into south Texas and 3 species to the south in Guatemala and Honduras.


They often grow in the margins, the places too tough for most other plants. This can be in the dry and open desert or rock faces and formations in wetter zones. Sometimes they are even one of the few plants that can survive on the rock formations in the desert. Talk about being well adapted to a harsh life!


When they are stressed by the heat, cold, or drought during the dry season some species will put one quite colorful displays like Hechtia sphaeroblasta on the right.

Mexico also has several other types of bromeliads: Aechmea, Billbergia, Bromelia, Catopsis, Gregia, Pitcairnia, among others. Of these, the genus Pitcairnia is the next most numerous in the country after Tillandsia and Hechtia.


Some of these are interesting due to their wide distribution, interesting form, or colorful flowers. A widespread but not very common species, Billbergia pallidiflora (left), is known for its pale and subtle colors--which is how it got its name!

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