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 – Billbergia pyramidalis-(flaming torch)

Billbergia pyramidalis, also called Flaming torch. is a species of bromeliad native to South America and parts of the Caribbean.

Flaming torch grows as an epiphyte on trees and also as a terrestrial plant where it grows in clumps spreading by forming new pups from stolens. It is a hardy, easy to grow plant useful as a ground cover and as an under storey plant under trees.

Billbergia pyramidalis growing under a tree as a mass of plants all coming into flower.

Like others in the Bromeliad family, the leaves of Flaming torch form a funnel-shaped basal rosette that can hold water, insects and fallen leaves which the plant uses for nutrients.

Flaming torch flowers emerging from the “tank” of the rosette of leaves. Note that side leaves also form a a water holding space.

Each plant around 12 erect leaves about 50 cm long and 4 to 5 cm wide.
Along the edge of the leaves are brown spines and there is a longer one on the rounded tip as can be seen in the image below. Using gloves to work around or handle the plants is a must.

The sharp spine is visible at the tip of the leaves as are the shorter ones along the margins of the leaves.

The inflorescence (made up of many individual flowers) forms the shape of a flaming torch and including the stalk, is about 50 cm tall. The stalk is thickly covered in white scales and emerges from the central tank of the rosette of leaves. The pink bracts around the inflorescence are 6 cm long and overlap to surround it.

The stalk with its white tipped bracts covering the inflorescence or cluster of flowers

The inflorescence, or cluster of flowers of Flaming Torch is up to 14 cm high and 8 cm wide.

Each flower that is a part of the inflorescence, is on a short white stalk and is tubular shaped, curving at the end into a corolla. Each is about 8 cm long and has 3 sepals and 3 petals. The image below shows the stalk, the white tipped sepals and the unopened petals of the Flaming Torch flower.

The sepals are covered with tiny white, loose scales that can be seen here.

The image below shows a cross-section of a Flaming Torch flower with the groups of stamens with their yellow anthers and purple topped stigma. At the other end the ovary of the flower can be seen with ovules in it.

The red petals are about 6 cm long and 0.5 cm wide and have rounded violet tips that after opening curve backwards to form a corolla at the end of the tube.

Each flower has 6 stamens in two groups, topped with yellow anthers. The style has 3 twisted purple stigmas. The image below can be enlarged to appreciate the detail of the flowers by clicking on it.

Click on the image to enlarge for greater detail.

The Billbergia pyramydalis is a wonderful plant for the shady and dappled areas of the garden. Planted below the canopy of trees in the leaf litter, it will propagate by stolens, quickly forming clumps as offsets occur from the rhizomes at the base of the leaves. As the clumps develop and spread they crowd out weeds, also a benefit.

This plant is nearly indestructible and thrives on neglect. In fact, another of its common names is the foolproof plant. Watering is only required periodically according to local environmental conditions and during droughts or extreme heat conditions.

The plant has a number of adaptations to allow it to survive in the dry conditions such as it would find, as an epiphyte in its native habitat.

The Flaming torch has a large number of absorptive trichomes on the base of the leaves, which allow them to directly absorb water and nutrients from the ‘tank’ formed by the rosette. The shape of the tank allows water and nutrients to accumulate over time to help the plant during drier periods. As well, the way the rosette is formed, additional small reservoirs are formed by each leaf with different conditions that give shelter and habitat for a wide range of organisms.

Photosynthesis occurs further along the leaves. Like the cacti, Flaming torch employs CAM or Crassulacean acid metabolism, a remarkable adaptation to environments with low water. They fix carbon dioxide at night, storing it as malic acid. During the day it is released and converted to sugars. Additionally, during periods of drought the plant can keep the stomata on the leaves closed and so further conserve water.

All these adaptations to their dry native habitat where rainfall may be intermittent makes the Billbergia pyramidalis a hardy, versatile and drought tolerant landscape plant.

The shape and leaves of the Flaming torch plant are beautiful all year round with varying shades of green depending on the light conditions of each plant. Then during late summer and early autumn the plants are a joy to behold as they all come into flower at the same time, the enfolded inflorescences peeking out from the centre of each plant to unfurl and reveal the beautiful purple tipped flowers that open gradually.

An inflorescence emerging from a rosette of leaves. This plant is at the base of a bay tree and is nourished by the falling bay leaves that fall around and into it.

Flaming torch, as an epiphyte, can be secured to trees, tree forks or on the stumps of trees as depends on the rosette and their roots are only for securing the plant. In the image below rosettes of the plant have been secured in the branches of a small dead tree that is under the canopy of taller trees. You can create a living sculpture in your garden.

Do give the beautiful Billbergia pyramidalis a place in your home garden and you will be blessed with its stunning red flaming torches too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s