Monday, October 20, 2008

James Bond (Vriesea splendens)

Maybe it's just me. In fact, probably it's just me. But if ever a plant naturally looked like it was wearing a tuxedo, Vriesea splendens would be that plant as far as I'm concerned.1 Which is enough of a reason right there to call it James Bond, but I also hear it prefers its fertilizer shaken, not stirred. I really had no choice.

It's a charmer, though it's not exactly what you'd call friendly, from an indoor-growing standpoint. There's remarkably little information about them on-line, which is frustrating, and what information there is tends to be enigmatic, ambiguous stuff like, "this is one of the more difficult bromeliads," without any real details about the nature of the difficulty. It's like, everybody's kind of trying to warn you away from this one, but they won't tell you why exactly. I'm not going to do that, because I haven't had any bad experiences with mine and don't see any reason to discourage anybody. I liked my first one so well that I got a second, even:

But of course this could all fall to pieces come winter. We don't know.2

Since, like I said, there's not much hard information out there about keeping these, the care information I can provide is going to be a little sketchy, and is going to have to rely more on my personal experiences than I like. But oh well:

LIGHT: There's general consensus that some sun, or filtered sun, is desirable. No word on what happens if the plant isn't getting enough, but too much is supposed to bleach out the green parts of the leaves (the dark spots apparently remain dark?). Both of my plants have been in a west window for a long time and seem to be perfectly happy there.

WATERING: I water mine essentially the same way that I water any of the other bromeliads I own: I let it get to the point where I can't feel any moisture in the soil with my finger, and then I soak the hell out of the soil, fill up the vase, and start the cycle over again. This has worked fine for a long time with my Guzmanias and Aechmeas, and worked for the small Vriesea in the pictures here for a year, so I'm assuming this must be okay.

TEMPERATURE: This is one of the care requirements that seems to be an actual problem for people, or at least it's something that people seem to insist on. Consensus is that you're safe between 60-80F (16-27C), and beyond those boundaries you're on your own. My own plants are usually in that range, though we do occasionally have brief periods above and below those temperatures, which haven't caused any visible problems.

HUMIDITY: This is the other factor that people tend to mention, and . . . well, I'm just not sure it's as critical as they say. It's hard for me to know, though, because my indoor humidity levels aren't maybe quite normal.3 Let's suffice it to say that more humidity is better, but that it's not clear how dry is too dry.

PESTS: They don't seem to be attacked by anything in particular, as far as I've been able to find. My own plants have never had anything that I'm aware of, nor any of the plants at work. Rot can be an issue if the soil is kept too wet for too long, though even then, it seems to take a while to kick in. We did lose some offsets to rot at work, which was a damn shame: six offsets, and the only one that made it was the one I took home. It was sad.

PROPAGATION: After flowering, like with most other bromeliads, the original plant dies, though it produces pups on its way out. Exactly how many pups to expect is a weird issue: I ran into a source that said one plant only produces one pup, always, and if you want more than that then you have to use seeds. I know I've seen at least one plant that had two pups on it at once, though, because I nearly bought it, so that's pretty definitely not true. So I don't know.

Pups should be separated when they're fairly large (maybe, say, when they're 75-80% the height of the parent), ideally when they've produced some roots of their own, with a clean knife (or you can just pull them apart, sometimes). Although some bromeliads will continue to offset for a long time, if you take off the pups (My oldest Aechmea fasciata has produced five offsets after two years post-flower, and I have a couple Guzmania lingulatas that have each produced six. In all three cases, the parent plants still seem healthy and functional and are not necessarily finished yet.), I have never tried re-potting a parent Vriesea splendens, so I'm not sure if this would work to produce more pups, but I sure as hell intend to try when my large one starts to offset.

FEEDING: Vrieseas are not, as best as I can tell, particularly heavy feeders, though they are probably pretty regular feeders, like most bromeliads, and they may also be more sensitive to copper than most plants, like some other bromeliads. I feed at a fairly low strength year-round, though probably I could skip winter. (For various reasons, it's easier for me to feed all the time than it would be to keep track of what had been fed and what hadn't and when the last feedings were for everything.) Some sources advise feeding through the leaves, vase, and roots simultaneously; I'm not sure I can see how it would matter, and only feed mine through the roots. Which seems to work fine.

GROOMING: Basically non-existent. Removing dead leaves and dead flowers is about it, and neither of those are things you're going to have to do often.

Aside from that, I can tell you that it has 25 pairs of chromosomes,4 which could be worth knowing someday (maybe the next time you're on "Jeopardy?") and that's about it. The flower spikes are supposed to last for several months; I didn't see any hard data on precisely how long, but four and six months are apparently not unheard of. My personal plant has been in bloom for at least two months.

There are at least a couple cultivars of note: my personal plants were sold to us as the cultivar 'Splenreit,' or possibly 'Splenriet' (the spelling on the internet is inconsistent, and I don't know which is correct). Presumably there's something particularly cool about 'Splen-'whatever, but I don't know what it is.5 There is also a dwarf variety, which is called 'Mini,' and which is mostly cool just for being smaller and staying smaller; it doesn't appear to have any different care requirements or anything.

As a genus, Vriesea's closest relatives are the Tillandsias, which surprises me a little (they certainly don't look terribly related from the leaves.). One can see a resemblance in some of the flowers, though. (Compare Vriesea splendens with Tillandsia cyanea, for example. Specifically, the flattened arrangement of bracts.)

Finally: I don't think Vriesea splendens is likely to be toxic to children or pets, based on the fact that bromeliads typically aren't, and none of the sites I looked at mentioned anything to that effect. The plant also has no spines or anything that might injure anybody. So if it has a license to kill, it's playing it pretty close to the vest.

UPDATE (22Jan09): See the unfinished business post on this plant for more about the offsetting and relationship to Tillandsia spp.


Photo credits: All mine except the last one, which is from "Tequila" at Wikipedia.

1 Okay, maybe Aphelandra squarrosa.
2 I do suspect, though, at least: the smaller of my plants made it through last winter just fine. So I would be surprised if winter were a big problem for them this year.
3 As has been previously noted, I have a large number of plants in a small amount of space, and they do all keep the humidity elevated for one another. Still, my cheapo K-Mart thermometer/humidity gauge generally stays around 40-60% at all times: it's good compared to an office building, but it's hardly a greenhouse.
4 Humans, of course, only have 23. Vriesea chromosomes are apparently small, as chromosomes go, so it does probably take more DNA to make a human than it does to make a Vriesea. (This is not a foregone conclusion: the genome for onions, for example, is much larger than the human genome. It is not yet clear how much of the DNA in each species actually needs to be there, though.) While I'm here, digressing anyway: the ancestral bromeliad species is thought to have had 25 pairs of genomes as well, because it's the most common number for modern bromeliads, and those species that differ tend to have either very close numbers like 24 or 26, or multiples of 25, like 50 or 100.
5 I couldn't find any information about 'Splen'whatever by itself. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it was supposed to be easier to care for than the species, given that I'm having an easier time with it than everybody seems to think I ought to. But I have no actual evidence for that, so I wouldn't be terribly surprised to find out that it's a cultivar for some entirely different reason (bloom longevity, or seed production, or who knows what).


Anonymous said...

Mr. S - you never fail to entertain us with your humor while instructing us. I really like all the useful info you provide. Now, would it be inappropriate for me to say I think your "Mr. Bond" looks more like an Andes candy? Oh, the disrespect!

Anonymous said...

Ha!!! This is too classic, Mr. S!
My ex and I both loved mvies, but the only movies we BOTH loved were the Bonds. Needless to say, we watched a lot of 'em over the years. I guess you just never know, eh? Uh, thanks for the memories!

Anonymous said...

A very informative article about a striking plant. An account of what does work is often as good as what has been written in a book. Your straight forward, humorous delivery holds our attention to the end.

Tino said...

i found your page to be a mini salvation of sorts regarding my plant (which i've now confirmed via your great large photos and descriptions to be this genus)

regarding the amount of blooms, my plant has bloomed twice in a year and a half, the second time having been "tricked" by enclosing it plastic see through film with ripening apples that produced a gas that apparently tricks the plant into blooming...

i am a novice plant owner and perhaps this technique is common amongst plants but i thought Iid write that i had success in getting it to bloom again within 4 months of the old one dying off...

Anonymous said...

Having just acquired my own plant, I'm wondering if the additional two years' experience would lead you to change any of your advice?


mr_subjunctive said...


Not really. Since the move, they've been in my office; one gets moderate artificial light for about 12 hours a day, and the other is in a west window that only gets direct sun for a few months on either side of the solstice (and then not very much), so the light requirement may be a little less restrictive than what I said in the profile.

I did eventually up-pot the larger of the two plants, and used the regular potting mix I use, cut with unchopped sphagnum, in a ratio of about 2:1 by volume, which appears to have been acceptable.

The leaves will start to roll up into a tube if the plant gets too dry.

The office has pretty lousy humidity, most of the time, compared to the rest of the house, and the Vrieseas haven't complained about that.

It's possible some of this is specific to the variety 'Splen-'whatever, but I've had no big issues with either of the plants that couldn't be explained in terms of me waiting too long to water, and they're actually pretty patient about that, too.

Anonymous said...

You obviously love this plant as much as I do. Thank you for your very good observations and photographs

I was given mine as a Mothers Day gift.It was trying to climb out of the restricting pot and was saturated.
I think I repotted it just in time. Now several months later it is "happy" and growing.
It doesn't seem at all "difficult"

One question I need answering is this-
As the flaming sword is dying should I leave it in place or cut it back? Will it produce new ones?

mr_subjunctive said...


It'll only produce one "sword." You can cut it off whenever you feel like it, or wait for it to shrivel and die. Doesn't really matter to the plant.

Jenn said...

I have one of these in a very low humidity environment here in Phoenix. It seems to be doing fine (going on three years, and second observed offset cycle.)

It also gets very dry between waterings. One of my favorite houseplants, due to it's dramatic leaves and ease of care.

It gets diffused natural light.

Anonymous said...

Do you have to separate the pups off from a 'vriesea splendens' or can you simply leave them on?

mr_subjunctive said...


You can leave them on.

phantomfive said...

Hi, this is a great post! I just bought a Vriesea, and I'm really worried I might end up killing it, but I am going to try.

Any idea on what size of pot to plant it in?

mr_subjunctive said...


Well, it would help if I knew the size of the pot it's in now. The root systems on V. splendens don't seem to be very extensive, so it probably needs a pot the same size as what it was in when you bought it, or slightly (maybe 1 inch) larger across the top.

I recommend also adding a small amount of unchopped sphagnum moss to the potting mix (it's sometimes sold as a medium for orchids[1]). This isn't necessarily required -- and feel free to disregard if you feel like it's going too far out of your way for the plant -- but the sphagnum gives it a spongier, airier texture, which I'm guessing more closely resembles their natural conditions. I've had good luck switching some of my other bromeliads to a part-sphagnum mix, anyway.


[1] Though the last time I bought some at Lowe's, they had two different brands of sphagnum, one that was supposedly "for orchids" and one that was not. They were identical products, as far as I could tell, but the package of the orchid stuff was half as big and cost like 40% more. Just so you know.

phantomfive said...

The pot it came in is about 5-6 inches in diameter, and 5 inches tall.

Now I'm getting worried though, the tips of the leaves are turning black and starting to curl. Maybe too much sun? I don't know, I tried moving it to a shadier spot, but this is kind of depressing. Usually I hope that plants I get will last longer than two days.

mr_subjunctive said...


I wouldn't mess with the pot, then; if you really hate the pot it came in, you can give it a new one of the same size, but I wouldn't go any larger than that.

The leaf tips could be going black and curling from any number of reasons, but if you've only had the plant a few days, I'd wonder about temperature. If it got cold on the way from the store to your home, that might explain the leaf tips. (And for this plant, "cold" is below 60F/16C, remember.) Anything else is likely to be the fault of the store that sold it to you.

It would help if I knew, approximately, where you live. I'd guess different things for someone living in South Florida than I would for someone in Southwest Alberta. Also photos might help, though I think I have a pretty good idea from your description.

My list of guesses would go like this:

1) Is it in a draft? Are the leaf tips touching a cold window?
2) Is it in the path of a heat vent, or sitting above a heater?
3) Was the sunny spot you had it in full sun, all-day, like an unobstructed south exposure? 'Cause that's possibly too much, especially if it's been sitting in a store for a couple weeks and grown accustomed to the lower light there.
4) Are you watering when the soil is already wet? 'Cause that might be overdoing it.
5) On the other hand, the only times I've ever seen my plants' leaves roll up has been when I've waited too long to water, so maybe that's it.
6) Do you have a water softener? 'Cause water from a water softener is not good for plants. (Water softeners remove calcium and magnesium, which make water "hard," and replace them with sodium. Some houseplants tolerate salty water pretty well, but I wouldn't expect any bromeliads to be among them.)

phantomfive said...

Oh, I think you guessed it. I have the plant under a skylight, which I covered with a sheet, so the light isn't fully direct, although there is still a slight shadow.

I live in California, but I don't have central heating. I turn off the heater during the day. It is fine for me, but I did notice it was getting down into the 50s inside my house while I was gone. So now I will be sure to keep my heater on even while I am away.

I was worried about the pot because it seems outside plants always come in containers that are too small, but I guess it isn't such a problem for inside plants.

phantomfive said...

oh, and thanks!

cloud snap said...

Mr. S,
The word part "Splen-" means the spleen; a bandage, a patch

according to DICTIONARY of WORD ROOTS and COMBINING FORMS. ISBN 0874840538

It's a handy little book.
Love your blog!

mr_subjunctive said...

cloud snap:


Splen- or spleno- means spleen, but splendens is its own root, meaning shining, brilliant, or radiant, depending on whose interpretation you favor. (e.g.) Same root as in "splendid."

Not sure any of those apply to V. splendens, really, but a certain amount of poetic license is permitted with botanical names.

One example of a houseplant name where the spleen meaning is relevant would be the fern genus Asplenium; they were believed to be useful for spleen-related diseases, hence the name.

Anonymous said...

Leave the "dead" flower stalk on the plant for a few months and you will one day notice a darker pod or two inside some on the bracks, these eventually open slowly to show you some fluffy hairs with tiny seeds attached, pull some seeds out by the hairs (away from the slightest breeze) and germinate them by spreading them as evenly as possible on the surface of any damp soil. It is Vital they don't dry out. Moss and waterlogging won't kill seedlings, dry soil and air will. In a few weeks the white hairs will be green and very small green leaves will be visible from the tiny seeds. You can safely separate them when you have a plant with 6 or 7 leaves around 2cm long-term but again these Ned to be kept extremely humid. Light levels and temperature don't matter to much I'm my experience. My first succeas In germinating these was to put a handful of soggy cheap compost in a sandwich bag and drop these sees in top, I tied the bag and left it on a sunny windowsill for a few months and came back to 20 mini bromeliads growing amount some grass and moss. They don't get the dark bands until larger. I leave the pup on the parent plant and the Seem to merge, older leaves dry up and can be cut off, never needed to repost with this method, expecting 4th flower soon, Good luck with the seedlings. Ross

Anonymous said...

I realize the last post was a while ago, but I'll try anyway :)

I've had one of these for almost 10 years. It was knocked over the other day and broke off a little above the soil line. I've put it in a glass to hold it up, and I'd like suggestions for a more permanent solution. It seems ok so far. I always water into the cup and rarely watered the soil, so it was usually dry. Will it reroot? Will it produce foliage from the roots if I keep them moist?

I'd hate to lose it, so I'd like to try anything that may help.


mr_subjunctive said...


I really couldn't say; I've never tried anything like what you're describing. My gut feeling is that your chances of getting the top to re-root are much better than your chances of getting the roots to sprout new leaves. If it were that easy, after all, then people would be propagating the plant that way.

Anonymous said...

Your comment about propagating makes sense. Guess I'll just have to see how it does as is. Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

I've been researching my bromeliad "sword plant" and come to the conclusion every vriesea with a red inflorescence,is referred to as V. splendens. Frustrating!!
My brom has solid green foliage with a short fat-type sword just now becoming visible above the leaf line. The last time it bloomed (in march of 2011) I went in search of an identification and came up empty then too.
Anyway, if you have any wisdom or info on sites with credible brom i.d.'s I'd be most appreciative!

mr_subjunctive said...


Odds are that it's a hybrid: there are a lot of hybrid Vrieseas out there with short red inflorescences and solid green leaves. Identifying which particular hybrid you have is basically impossible -- the retailer was probably never told, and the wholesaler might or might not know. For care purposes, it really doesn't matter; they all take basically the same care as V. splendens.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the speedy reply! That's kind of what I figured...I'm just such a stickler for wanting to know the exact hybrid...wierd and geeky, but that's me!
Love your blog, btw!

Unknown said...

Excellent description and great follow-up Q&A. Thanks!

I've had my V. splendens for about 8 years indoors in Berkeley CA, and it is doing very well.

It sits next to a large south facing bathroom window and gets full sun until about 11am. House temps range from 50ish to 80F throughout the year. humidity is generally pretty low but it is in the same room as a regularly-used shower (though still pretty far away).

I forget to water it often, since it is far removed from my several dozen orchids. I almost never fertilize it -only when I'm trying to use up the pitcher of extra orchid fertilizer (5-5-5), or when I have a dead fly in the window sill.

So mine doesn’t really pup. It only ever produced one pup, and that was inside the parent plat (so I left them both and both are healthy). Yet the plant blooms every other year. The internal pup is blooming now for the third time and is currently producing a massive flower spike.

Also, does anyone here have any guidance on seedlings? A few years ago I planted a billion-ish seeds and it seemed half of them sprouted. Unfortunately, I didn’t expect anything to happen, so I just spread them over a bed of moss in a terrarium. I successfully moved a small collection into a small container. They haven’t grown in size for a year. Still look like they sprouted a few months ago. So any guidance on what to do next would be helpful. It’s mostly trial and error at this point.


Unknown said...

Hi there. I am from sunny South-Africa. Thanks for all the usefull info. It has certainly helped me a lot. As a newby i have one question though. We were moving the other day and to my horror i dropped my plant by accident. I just came out of hospital so my left arm was still in a sling. I just couldnt catch my poor plant in time. Needless to say, the red sword part broke off. I now only have the long stem left. The rest of the plant is unharmed. Do i leave it like that or do i cut it off and where do i cut it? Please help. Thanks in advance. Jaco.

mr_subjunctive said...

Jaco Crafford:

It's mostly a matter of taste. The plant can't do anything with the stump (it can't build another inflorescence on the existing stump), so unless you like the look of the stump, you may as well cut it off. Where you cut is similarly up to you; I'd cut as low on the stalk as I could comfortably reach with a pair of shears.

Probably what happens next is that the plant starts to offset, but there is a small chance that the plant might bloom again, since the flowers from the first stalk didn't get pollinated. If that happens, it will probably take the plant a long time to start, since it takes a lot of energy to build an inflorescence. You'll probably know whether it's going to die/offset or rebloom by March.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the reply. I'll hold thumbs and see what happens by March then.