From the rocky slopes towering above the Brazilian city of Rio de Janiero comes the Alcantarea ‘Imperialis’ otherwise known as the Imperial Bromeliad. This species of bromeliad belongs to the Alacantarea genus, which is named for the second Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro d’Alcântara. When found in the wild, a small empire of animals, such as frogs and insects, make a home within the water that accumulates within the plant’s interior leaves. This type of water body is referred to as phytotelma. The Imperial Bromeliad can grow to 48 inches in diameter and 36 inches in height, so there is certainly plenty of room for these creatures. The leaves themselves are of a thick, waxy consistency, with a deep green and burgundy coloring. The striking red bloom of the plant can reach to heights of six feet, which make it the perfect fit for a royal courtyard in the tropics. Be patient, however, as the Imperial Bromeliad only blooms about once a decade! The event is worth the wait, as the bloom will remain standing for five months.
Despite hailing from a tropical environment, as a lithophyte (a plant that grows in or on rocks) the Imperial Bromeliad can withstand drier soils. This plant can also tolerate temperatures as cool as 30 °F, which sometimes happens in its native Serra dos Órgãos mountain range. As such, this plant can be hard to come by in the hilly, continental climate of Iowa. At Reiman Gardens, however, you can spot two specimens planted in containers on the patio outside of the Mahlstede building, where they are enjoying the current hot and humid summer weather. An Imperial Bromeliad is also tucked into the south west corner of the Conservatory, just adjacent to the path, and is available for viewing year-round.
In Portuguese, the Imperial Bromeliad is known as “Bromélia-tanque” or “Bromélia-imperial.” Come take a peek at the environment of Brazil at Reiman Gardens.