OF THE WEEK
Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department
In addition, all members of the genus Aechmea
are referred to as Air Pines, Air Plants, or
Aechmea fulgens discolor
of scientific name:
from the Greek word, referring to the pointed
sepals (petal-like structures found at the base of
a flower) of this plant genus
shining, glistening, in reference to the flower of
2 or more different colors.
The discolor variety of Aechmea
fulgens has leaves that are dark
olive green above and brownish-red or violet-red
are faintly striped with gray cross bands; hence,
the variety name of discolor. The
more common Aechmea fulgens
has uniformly green colored leaves.
fulgens discolor is a member of the
Pineapple or Bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae).
This family is comprised of species with a
wide diversity of form, including the Pineapple (Ananas
comosus) and Spanish Moss (Tillandsia
There are about 165 species in the genus Aechmea,
most of which are native to South America.
Aechmeas are usually epiphytes, in
that they live on other plants (such as in the
crotches of tree limbs or clinging to the bark of
large branches) but do not derive nutrition from
Aechmea fulgens discolor
is typical of the genus in this respect.
In its native habitat of Brazil, it is
often found growing on trees with the root system
functioning primarily to hold it onto the bark.
with many Bromeliads, this species has made some
truly amazing adaptations for water and mineral
Since the roots have lost most of their
absorptive function in the process of evolving to
serve as holdfasts, the leaves have come to serve
in that capacity.
Up to 16 inches long and 3 inches wide, the
leaves of the Coralberry grow in a rosette
fashion. The lower portions of the
leaves have sheaths that make watertight contact
along their edges.
This allows the rosette of leaves to hold
water and Bromeliads that have this capacity are
referred to as “tank” types.
The upper surfaces of the leaves that line
this tank are modified for water and mineral
has allowed for the development of an ecological
relationship practically unknown in other plants.
The Coralberry (and other “tank” type
Bromeliads) not only gets its water through the
leaves but also supplements its meager mineral
supply with the excrement and remains of a host of
small plants and animals.
Plant life ranging from single-celled algae
to mosses and even flowering plants have been
found inhabiting Bromeliad tanks.
Animal life ranging from protozoans,
insects and crabs, to frogs, salamanders and
snakes have been found in the tanks. Many of these species live or
breed exclusively within the tanks.
Mosquito larvae in these tanks do not have
to be near the water surface to draw their oxygen
from the atmosphere.
The photosynthesizing leaves give off
excess oxygen, which saturates the water and
allows the larvae to thrive and remain protected
well below the surface.
Unfortunately, malaria-carrying mosquitoes
can breed in the Bromeliad tanks, and local
outbreaks of malaria have been linked to an
abundance of tank type Bromeliads in the area.
characteristic that has allowed the Coralberry to
adapt to its rain forest habitat is a thick
leathery leaf to conserve water. A rain forest may receive a
great deal of precipitation, but it is also very
warm and a plant without a significant root system
must make provisions to minimize water loss.
leaves are also covered with water absorbing
scale-like hairs, which give the leaf surfaces a
powdery gray-white or scurfy appearance.
This is referred to as a “bloom” on the
Coralberry leaves get their faint gray
cross bands from the uneven patterning of this
scales making up this bloom are quite delicate,
and can be rubbed off with one’s fingers. Water not absorbed by the
scales runs down the inclined leaf surface and is
channeled into the tank.
leaves of Coralberry are quite fibrous.
South American Indians have used this
species and others as a source of fibers for rope
and rough cloth for untold centuries.
flowers of Coralberry are relatively small, but
are conspicuously colored with blue/purple petals.
The stalks that support the flowers (the scapes)
and the oval ovaries of the flowers are a
brilliant red. The color combinations are
striking. The common name Coralberry is based on
these distinctive flower clusters. Since the
brightly colored tissues persist for long periods
of time, the plant is said to be “in bloom”
for months on end.
“blooming” the entire rosette of leaves that
supported the flower cluster dies. From
the base of the old rosette a number of offsets or
“pups” will develop to replace it.
Each pup will develop into its own rosette,
and after several years each will produce its own
pups can be separated as individual plants, and
this is the primary means by which the rosette
types of Bromeliads are propagated by people.