Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

Plant of the Month, December 2008
Fascicularia - by Gary Dunlop

Few bromeliads are hardy in our temperate climate but one notable exception is Fascicularia. Perhaps more remarkable, for a genus in the a mostly tropical family of plants, is their late flowering, usually in October and November in the British Isles,  


There are two plants of this Chilean genus that are quite common in cultivation, widely known as F.bicolor and F.pitcairnifolia. The former has a more southerly habitat range, where it is often epiphytic, and is reliably hardy in cultivation. The latter is more northerly in its distribution, and thus less hardy though there is a considerable overlap in their habitat ranges.  Both plants are remarkably drought resistant and in time will expand into sizeable colonies, thought they are relatively slow to increase..  

Fascicularia bicolor

This genus from Chile was established by the Spanish botanists Ruiz and Pavon, in their 3 Volume Magnus Opus ‘Flora peruviana et chilensis’, plus two supplements, 1796-1802. They established the genus with Fascicularia bicolor which unlike so many other plants that they discovered and named, was neither illustrated, nor described in great detail, and no herbarium specimen of it survives from their expedition.  
In 1997, in the New Plantsman Vol.4 pt.4,  Dr Charles Nelson and Professor Zizka, published an article reclassifying the genus, in which they determined that the plant that Ruiz & Pavon had named F.bicolor was more likely to be the plant known as F.pitcairnifolia
They reclassified it as F.bicolor and the plant in cultivation for well over 100 years as F.bicolor and F.bicolor subsp. canaliculata. There are a number of significant flaws in the article, and it is certainly arguable that there are sufficient differences between the plants to maintain them as separate species, though that would create a hiatus in the already convoluted nomenclature changes.  

It will be some time before the names of the two plants is finally resolved, and ironically, in the small collection of these plants that Charles Nelson established at Glasnevin they are still labelled under the long established names, though unfortunately the wrong way around!

Fascicularia pitcairnifolia. 

The old familiar names are used in the accompanying photographs. F.bicolor has thin channelled leaves and the flower head develops completely before the pale blue flowers begin to open in sequence from the outer perimeter gradually moving to the centre. F.pitcairnifolia has thicker, and fleshier leaves, which are often broader and the deep blue flowers emerge and open from the centre as the flower head expands.