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Aechmea bracteata (Swartz) Grisebach.

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I cannot supply photos of this ant-house species but there are possibly members herein that can do so. I have seen at least one excellent example taken by a Facebook member. 

  Aechmea bracteata (Swartz) August Heinrich Rudolf Grisebach published in Flora of the British West Indian Islands 592, 1864.  Basionym Bromelia bracteata Olof Swartz published in Nova Genera et Species Plantarum seu Prodromus 56, 1788.  Synonyms, Aechmea schiedeana Schlechtendal 1845, Aechmea laxiflora Bentham 1846, Hohenbergia bracteata (Swartz) Baker 1871, Hoplophytum bracteatum (Swartz) K. Koch 1860, Hohenbergia laxiflora (Bentham) Baker 1871. Aechmea regularis Baker 1879, Aechmea macrantha Brongniart x Édouard-François André, 1880, Aechmea barleei Baker 1883, Aechmea isabellina Baker 1890, Tillandsia spinosa Martin Sessé y Lacasta & José Mariano Mociño 1894, Aechmea bracteata var. pacifica Carlos Rommel Beutelspacher Baigts 1971.  Etymology is from the Latin word bracteata meaning equipped with bracts that are a deep pink or red below.

  Description: Large, imposing, vase-shaped phytotelm (tank) bromeliads with leaves that reach more than 1.5 m. (4.921 ft.) in length and 10 cm. (4”) across, edged with 1 cm long thorns.  A stalked inflorescence reaches 1.5 m (4.9 ft.) tall.  Central tanks of larger specimens can hold up to 200 ml. of water and further amounts are held in about 10 or more outer leaf gaps. (Benzing et al. 1972, & Dejean & Olmstead 1997 cited by Goode et al. 2009.)

  Ecology: In mature plants, aggressive ants often numbered in thousands of individuals inhabit watertight outer chambers.  Occupancy rates of 95% in inner leaf gaps and 97% in outer leaf gaps have been recorded and ant-inhabited plants exhibited little evidence of attacks by leaf-cutter ants, thus providing convincing proof of benefits provided by plant inhabitants. Furthermore, this species exhibited the highest ant-occupancy of all bromeliads tested in a study that also included a number of myrmecophyte tillandsias. (Dejean et al. 1995.) (Dejean et al. 2003 cited by Goode et al. 2009.)  It also supports aquatic fauna in its phytotelmata and ‘terrestrial’ animals such as cockroaches, mites, and springtails in outer leaf-axil terraria as well as being regularly associated with tree frogs, thus providing these amphibians with important refuges during annual dry seasons. (Galindo-Leal et al. 2003 cited by Goode et al. 2009.)  A further physiological survival benefit is the species use of CAM.  (Ehleringer & Monson 1993 cited by Goode et al. 2009.)

  Habitats: low densities occur in semi-deciduous upland forests but plants are twice as common in seasonally flooded lowland forests characterised by short-statured open vegetation including mangroves where bush fires are less frequent (Goode et al. 2009.) and high humidities are the norm. Yet again we have habitats that share many similarities to locations favoured by southern Asian myrmeco-epiphyte guilds.

  Range: From central Mexico & Belize, south through Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama) to Colombia & Venezuela in northern South America.

In the mild, humid, northern New Zealand climate, this species has proven difficult to maintain in cultivation, yet the species will endure at least short periods around zerooC.  However, as seems to be the case for most epiphytic ant-house plants (except many Tillandsia air-plant species) they should probably be kept above about 15o C (59oF.) preferably with day temperatures at least around 20-24o C. (68-75oF.)

Use a bright position but perhaps not a lot of direct sunlight according to ones local climate and if potted use a well-draining mix (perhaps even scoria?).  In the American tropics and subtropics, they are used either as epiphytes or as terrestrial garden plants; therefore in sufficiently warm locations they may be planted in-ground.

In summer, a plentiful supply of water and immediate high humidity is important, especially during spells of dry weather with low ambient humidities.  In winter, keeping water in its tanks may promote rot in cooler climates.

Germination of seed is best with warmth and high humidity, preferably a day/night regime of 28- 24o C. (82- 75ºF.)  Germination will become poorer at progressively lower temperatures.  Fresh seed is best with only 75% of one-year-old seed germinating but there was no success with two-year-old seed. In addition, these statistics probably indicate the best conditions for adult plants.

Aechmea seed is usually mucilaginous - a sticky adaptation promoting its adherence to trees but seed may be cleaned with a dilute alcohol solution, something that also kills bacterial and fungal pathogens.  Indeed, there have been successful germinations after using pure alcohol.  Seedlings and juvenile plants have yet to develop tanks (Goode et al. 2009.) so extra care to avoid dehydration must be provided accordingly.

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