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Flowers on Demand…

The ability and knowledge to make certain plants burst into flower at specific times of the year by using hormonal chemical substances is well known. Back in the early 60s this procedure was in its infancy and some hit and miss attempts were achieved. Today it is a scientific and highly successful practice and each year at specific times, especially for Mothers Day and Valentines Day, and at Christmas, many thousands of chrysanthemums and poinsettias etc are held back, then brought into bloom almost to the day.

To know why and how this happens with bromeliads we must go back a little in time and begin with the humble pineapple which, as you all know, is a very important member of the Bromeliaceae family.

Many years ago, a pineapple grower in Hawaii was burning off a large area of land to extend his plantation. The area had a number of large trees on it and these were felled and bulldozed into piles and set alight as part of the clearing process. It is important to note that this was an out of season time for the pineapples. Some six to eight weeks later the pineapple plants in an adjoining area set fruit. Naturally, with such an important industry at stake, the experts were called in to explain the cause. The conclusions were that the wood smoke from the fires that had wafted over the pineapple plantations contained ethylene gas, and it was this that had triggered the production of leaves to abruptly cease, and the meristematic shoot tips to start producing the embryonic beginnings of flower bracts and inflorescence tissue.

This was hailed by the industry as an extremely important find and paved the way for new synthetic organic chemicals such as ‘Omaflora’ and ‘Ethrel’, by-products of acetylene gas, and the ‘Pill’, which we will talk about later in the article. Today the pineapple industry routinely relies on ‘Omaflora’ and other products to guarantee them a good yield. As you well know bromeliads can be shy flowerers and as pineapples are rotationally cropped, every plant must bear fruit.

Why should we force our bromeliads into flower?

One good reason for doing this, obviously, is commercial gain, as with the example of our poinsettias etc. In some cases it is questionable whether some nurseries are not in fact doing bromeliads an injustice, as results to date show that the guzmanias and now neoregelias being offered are far too small, have a high mortality rate and if not sold when in flower, suffer the fate of being knocked down at bargain basement prices to someone who will lovingly try to bring the plant back to life. This could take another three years as the plant recovers from its hormonal inducement. One of the prerequisites to flower inducement by chemicals, is that the plant should be of flowering size so that it has the ability to withstand the requirements of changing from vegetative shoot tips to embryonic flower tissue. The problem with treating a juvenile plant is that when it has flowered and starts to produce pups, the pups are still juvenile and not only need care and attention, but will take a number of years to reach the true flowering size, as they almost revert to seedling plants. I say, that unless you are a bromeliad grower, and know and understand the requirements for these plants, then there is more than a possibility that your beloved Mothers Day guzmania will end up, after it has flowered, in the trash can.

An important piece of advice. If you have purchased one of the flowering guzmanias or neoregelias, re-pot it!

However, inducing bromeliads into flower for the purpose of hybridizing is a very acceptable method. Bromeliads, unlike orchids for instance, can be extremely fickle and one cannot guarantee that the two plants you may wish to hybridize will in fact flower for you at the right time, and no doubt, many hybrids have been made purely because that was all that was out at the time.

The ideal hybrids are planned between two plants that you have recognized will hopefully complement each other e.g. you wish to cross Neoregelia carolinae tricolor with Neoregelia concentrica, and are hopeful you may get a variegated hybrid (even though the chances are perhaps one in a thousand). To do this you will need both plants to flower at the same time. Now we have a number of methods that will help us, from acetylene gas, to ‘Ethrel’ and now the ‘Pill.’

Acetylene gas bubbled into the central tanks of the plant can and does work, but is somewhat dangerous and should only be attempted by those who are trained and understand this method. ‘Ethrel’ is sold as a liquid and is then mixed with water to form a concentrate and is then mixed with water again to be broken down to be sprayed on to the plants and the central tanks. The ratio of ‘Ethrel’ and water is extremely important. If too much ‘Ethrel’ is present, severe burning will result in possible death to your plants. The success rate is suggested at 80% and if you are treating a large greenhouse with many plants, you will most probably get very good results.

If it is only a few plants you wish to flower for hybridizing, then the ‘Pill’ is the answer

The ‘Pills’ are only available from the Bromeliad Society International and you have to be a member to order. They come in small glass containers each holding 1000 and were US$10.00 per container, including post and pack. Two containers, or 2000 ‘Pills’ is plenty. The cost and availability should be checked if you are wishing to purchase.

Extracted from the August 2002 journal

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