In frost free areas this bromeliad is a colorful groundcover plant for shady areas.
Description Aechmea distichantha is a funnel-shaped bromeliad with an erect rosette of arching strap-shaped leaves an inch wide and up to 3 ft (0.9 m) long. The leaves are dull green with pointed tips and small brown spines along the margins. The inflorescence is a pyramid-shaped cluster of spreading spikes, each with several blue, white or purple flowers about an inch long and subtended by showy pink bracts. The stem of the inflorescence is white-wooly and holds the flower cluster several inches above the center of the rosette. Bromeliads flower only once, and then they die, but the inflorescence may last for several weeks. Aechmea distichantha produces a white-wooly cylindrical berry-like fleshy fruit that persists for a few more weeks. Like most bromeliads, Aechmea distichantha produces offsets that replace the parent plant vegetatively. Var. schlumbergeria, with particularly dense flower clusters, is commonly cultivated.
Location Aechmea distichantha is native to southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and northern Argentina.
Culture Aechmea distichantha is easy to cultivate either epiphytically or in an orchid and bromeliad potting mix. The potting medium must be neutral or slightly acidic - bromeliads do not tolerate limey conditions. Add additional grit or vermiculite to commercial orchid potting mix - bromeliads do not tolerate moisture-retentive soils. To grow epiphytically, wrap the the plant's roots in sphagnum moss and secure to a piece of driftwood, tree bark or cork with wire or nylon string. Try to put the roots in a depression to create a little "soil pocket" on the support. In a few weeks the roots should take hold and you can remove the string. Bear in mind that bromeliad roots are mainly for attachment - bromeliads get most of their water from the rain, and their nutrients from dust and decaying insects that accumulate in the vase-like rosettes of their leaves.
Light: Like most bromeliads, Aechmea distichantha needs fairly bright light, but never direct sun. In humid tropical and subtropical climes, grow outdoors in filtered sun. Indoors, provide bright, but indirect light. Aechmea distichantha can tolerate light intensities as low as 250 foot-candles. Moisture: Water regularly during the warmer months by pouring rain water or water with low-nitrogen houseplant fertilizer directly into the center of the rosette. You should also mist the roots and sphagnum once or twice a week. Don't use water high in calcium ions (most well water, for example), or water with chlorine. Aechmea distichantha appreciates a humid environment. Keep dry in winter. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Aechmea distichantha can be grown outdoors in zones 9-11, and is usually grown as a house plant elsewhere. Propagation: Little "pups" or offsets are produced, but these should not be severed until the mother plant begins to die several weeks after blooming. Aechmea distichantha is easy to propagate from seed, so long as it is fresh. Remove the outer jelly-like covering from the seed and sow on top of the orchid/bromeliad potting mix. Seed should germinate in 2-3 weeks at 75 F (23.8 C).
The vase plant's inflorescence puts on a spectacular show that lasts for weeks - this is var. schlumbergeria.
The attractive foliage, long lasting flowers and ease of culture of Aechmea distichantha make this an attractive and desirable houseplant. Make a bromeliad "tree" by attaching several different bromeliads to niches and pockets along an interesting piece of driftwood. Display it indoors in winter, but hang it out under a tree in summer. In zones 9-11, attach bromeliads to trees in the landscape.
There are about 2000 species in 45 genera of bromeliads, all native to tropical and subtropical America except for a single species in Africa. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and pineapple (Ananas comosus) are familiar bromeliads. The genus Aechmea is a very diverse group of nearly 200 species, including many hybrids and ornamental cultivars. Most are epiphytic but some are terrestrial, and some can go either way. Aechmeas come in a range of forms and sizes from 6 in (15 cm) tall to 5 ft (1.5 m) tall and 10 ft (3 m) across.
There are many organizations for bromeliad fanciers and collectors. Check out the Bromeliad Society International for a gateway into this fascinating group of plants and the people who cultivate them.