What to Plant in April

The following is a list of vegetables that you can plant in April in Sydney, a temperate zone (just click on the link for the growing guide for each vegetable):

Plant of the Month – The stunning Billbergia Vittata

(Click on each image to get a further enlargement to view other details)

Billbergia vittata is another member of the beautiful bromiliaceae family. It is a hardy perennial epiphytic, native to east Brazil. In its native habitat it grows as a tropical forest under-story plant and on the stems of trees. It will grow very well in the ground, attached to tree bark or in the forks of trees in leaf litter or in pots.

The Billbergia vittata grows best in partial or dappled shade, partial shade to full shade or in full shade as it would grow in native forests. In shade the leaves are dark green, while in bright sunlight the plant produces more anthocyanin pigments with the leaves changing to a deep green, purple and red.

It prefers moist, humus rich, loose, well-drained soils. A raised bed built up from mulched wood chips and dry leaves with organic matter is ideal. It tolerates most pH of soil and has a preferred growing temperature rages from between 16ºc to 30ºc.

 Bromeliads need good drainage , lots of air, a moist atmosphere, and adequate light. So, select a site under a canopy of a tree that has these features and plenty of air movement so that the plant can receive and retain falling leaves from the branches above and water can reach into the reservoir to feed the plant.

The plant has an upright clump forming habit, producing pups at the base near to flowering time. These can be cut from the main plant for propagation once they are about a third of the size of the adult plant. New plants also emerge from its stolons or runners.

Billbergia vittata growing in the soil under the canopy of a tree with a colourful hot pink bract emerging.

Billbergia vittata has stiff, dark green leaves that are dusted with silver trichomes (hair-like covering) that make a silver/grey banding that contrasts with leaf pigment. The leaves are lanceolate in shape and up to 30 cm and 5 cm across with spines along the margins.

Detail of the trichomous surface banding of the leaves and the marginal spines of the Billbergia vittata.

Its leaves form into a rosette or tubular shaped structure about 500-600 mm high with a central cup that acts as a water reservoir called a vase. The leaves are adapted to extract water and food from the debris of insects and leaves falling into it from above into the water that collects in the vase. The roots act to anchor the plant rather than being for feeding, while the leaves have taken over the function of feeding the plant.

The vase shaped arrangement of leaves with leaf litter and a new flower emerging

The plant produces a brilliant red-pink bract from the centre of the plant from which emerges an inflorescence (the flowering structure) that has a number of flower structures tipped with small blue flowers.

While the blue flowers only last a few days each, the showy inflorescence remains for 4-5 weeks. When pollinated, berries forms at the base of the flower.

Detail showing the deep pink bracts with the emerging inflorescence with a number of flowers at different stages. The petals roll back at maturity and the stamens grow well beyond the petals.

The Billbergia vittata flowers are elongated, up to 8 cm in . The pedicel or stem that supports a flower is short and wide. Sepals are long, boat-like and tough. The tubular white flower has 3 petals that are thin and twice as long as the sepals and the purple tips roll back at the apexes. They also have twin scale-like appendages at the base formed by the epidermal tissue. These clasp the bases of the filaments. Stamens have long cylindrical filaments.

Close up of the mature three petalled flower. Click for further enlargement

A close up showing the parts that make up the flower, the cream pedical, pink sepal and the purple tipped, white petals with the filaments protruding and yellow pollen covered anthers. The bluish stigma on the top of the style is also visible beyond the stamens. The pink stems of the inflorescence support each flower.

Billbergia vittata is an easy plant to grow in the garden or in pots. As long as it is well situated and the water reservoir has water, it has little need of too much attention under normal weather conditions.

During hot periods and extreme temperatures keep the humidity up by misting and watering always early in the morning and preferably with rainwater. Also periodically check the centre of the plants for adequate water. When planted in the ground make sure that when watering, the soil around the plant is moist but not too wet.

Mass planted under trees they can be beautiful and effective ground covers that make a stunning sight at flowering time.

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