ADDA ABENDROTH

By Derek Butcher

Adda Abendroth was born in 1898 of German extraction, she married a Brazilian and lived for many years in Brazil until her death in 1981.

In 1948 she moved to Teresopolis, then a sleepy town, and it was here that she started to take a keen interest in the plant life around her home especially Bromeliads. Ten years later saw her busily taking herbarium specimens, carefully drying and pressing them and sending them to Lyman Smith at the Smithsonian Institute. Reference to Smith and Downs monographs on Tillandsioideae and Bromelioideae in Flora Neotropica show that 32 specimens are noted as having come from Adda Abendroth. When it is remembered that these were collected near her home and not part of Botanical expeditions it will be seen that she was also keenly interested in the habitat and how the various forms of plants existed in the wild. A conservationist at heart she mainly distributed seed rather than plants. She had correspondents in the USA and sent seed there but her greatest impact was on the plants being grown in Australia. Her most productive years were between 1958 and 1971 when she moved to the island of Paqueta to live with her daughter. By 1970 she was describing Teresopolis as "Life has become difficult since it progressed to the rank of a tourist town!"

During this period much seed was received in Australia from Adda and much was sown. We are well aware that the most difficult seed to germinate, because it has a short viability period, is in the Tillandsioideae sub-family with the grey leaved Tillandsia being the worst. This is shown up in the plants surviving in Australia being mainly from the Bromelioideae even though outnumbered in the herbarium specimens deposited with Lyman Smith 18 to 14. We even received seed from plants not recorded as herbarium specimens but where we do know discussion between Lyman and Adda did occur.

In various discussions over the years with Bill Morris and Olwen Ferris, and reading Bromeletter, the Australian Journal, I have been able to piece together what plants are still in cultivation. Australians would never have heard of Adda Abendroth were it not for these two correspondents of hers. I would like to share with you some of the plants involved.

First I must mention Neoregelia abendrothae which was named in her honour by Lyman Smith in 1960. In the same issue of the Bromeliad Society Bulletin Vol.X page 24/30 David Barry Jr wrote an article of a visit he made to Adda Abendroth's home. From that batch of seed that Adda sent we have 2 main forms growing in Australia, one with slightly darker leaves than the other. The plants offset freely, hence they do not need to be grown from seed. The offsets have a peculiar habit where they start off having long whip-like leaves. As they mature the centre leaves become wider and grow to form a tight tube ready for flowering. It makes an ideal hanging basket.

Aechmea fasciata is a common plant these days but only because of careful selection and breeding in Europe over many many years. We still grow the 'small' form of Aechmea fasciata var. purpurea as mentioned in the following paragraph. I quote from a letter from Adda on June 17th 1968.

"Years ago Dr. Oeser sent me some A. fasciata seed from Germany. Several plants raised from it flowered and put their wild sisters to shame. Mature plants are about twice as big, clad in a real snow-dress in winter, and have a larger and richer spike and more simultaneous flowers. The flower bracts are slightly curled. It is our light-green variety plus a successful beauty treatment. Our light-green form is faithful as to shape and size and habits. It blooms in early Spring, or a little later, sparingly. The plants grow on tree trunks or branches in virgin forest. The colonies are not large, to 3-5 shoots.

Another variety has dark green leaves, sometimes tinged with red. Size about the same as the light-green form but not so even, colonies somewhat larger. Habitat the same.

The third form appears growing on nearly naked branches of old trees, mostly single rosettes 20-30cm in diameter. The colour is rosy, shape nice and even. This form, when planted in shade (tied to a branch or a trunk) has darker and longer leaves. The rosy pink seems to develop only high up in the trees, exposed to sun and wind.

The fourth is the variety purpurea which has wine-red leaves. Habit like the dark-green form. In deep shade the leaves get very long and fall over. The red is almost black making a striking contrast with the white bands. This is more common than the total of the other three."

Billbergia sanderiana versus Billbergia elegans was a saga that ran for years with Adda writing to Lyman and vice versa. A plant that started off being B. elegans where seed was sent to Australia ended up being B. sanderiana. This embarrassed Adda somewhat because quite a few letters were received apologising for the mistake and stressing the correct name. We now know that this was an area that troubled Lyman Smith and only recently has it been resolved that B. elegans is more closely related to the B. amoena complex. In the meantime, such an impressive plant has spread far and wide in Australia under the wrong name. No herbarium specimen is recorded and one wonders if it is still in Lyman's too hard basket! (see 'Uncle Derek Says' article)

Another that has no dried reference came to us as seed in 1958 as Neoregelia ? and described as a small plant, a pale leaved rosette with a purple netting design on the sheaths and small white flowers with lavender edges. Two years later she advised that the plant had been identified as Neoregelia sarmentosa v. chlorosticta (now Neo. chlorosticta) by Lyman Smith. She made some interesting comments on its growing habits. I quote;
"I have since discovered that it changes its look when it is cultivated. The wild plants in the forest climb on tree trunks and have narrow dark-green leaves almost half a metre long. Shoots of wild plants transplanted in the soil in half shade develop into those "pale leaved rosettes" I wrote you about. A shoot fastened to a tree limb about 20cm above the ground will grow into a green rosette with somewhat longer leaves. About 50cm above ground the leaves grow shorter and broader and the purple netting creeps out of the sheath. One metre above ground seems to stunt growth and to emphasise colour. I have one plant that has been that distance from the ground for 2 years. It grew very little but has developed exquisite shape and colour. It is only 17cm high, bulges a bit in the lower part and the blades point upwards, terminating in two waves with the tip bristle directed towards the centre of the rosette. The tips are darkish and the blades a dull reddish grey. The netting comes up halfway along the blade and has a lovely wine colour. Sunlight striking the plant sideways brings out the loveliest warm glow."

Neoregelia concentrica was also widespread in her area. She sent seed for a plant with more reddish centre leaves than usual and this form is still growing in Australia. In horticulture, cultivar names of 'Proserpine' and 'Plutonis' crop up . These originated with Morren in the late 1800's. Dutrie in Bulletin Horticole 1946-8 indicated that it was 'Plutonis' that had the red centre which is contrary to plants currently being distributed under this name. Jason Grant is cataloguing Morren's paintings (including those of his assistants) and may be able to ascertain if Dutrie was in fact correct.

The purplish centred plant was more common and I again quote from Adda.
"Neoregelia concentrica is hardy indeed, and a real puzzle besides. You cannot tell what it will do. It can come in 5 models; a large uneven rosette having one or two extra-long leaves, a large even and symmetric rosette, a flat plate, a tufty rosette only about 25cm across, or a salver-shaped affair that is an urn topped by a ring of short broad even leaves. For many years I have been trying to find out if site has anything to do with the shape. I think it has within limits, that is, shade makes for longer leaves. More sunshine makes the plants compact and stocky. The leaves have a black margin and somewhat of a design that appears to be pretty steady, that is repeated on successive shoots. It varies in individuals. The flower nest is bright purple changing to violet when dry weather sets in."

One that has had us puzzled for some years is Aechmea nudicaulis v. aureo-rosea where Adda sent specimens to Lyman Smith and seed to Olwen Ferris. The plants have been grown in Australia ever since but had been under a cloud because they did not agree with the description in Smith and Downs Bromelioideae 1979 page 1925. During 1997 I was finding errors in plant identification by obtaining photocopies of original descriptions made in the late 1800's. It was perhaps this success that prompted me to ask Dr. Walter Till if he could check the original botanical painting in the Vienna Illustrated Garden Magazine in 1881. He obliged by sending me a photograph which showed that Lyman Smith had the colours mixed up. As far as I can trace no-one has written about this error even though the plant is correctly described in Victoria Padilla's book Bromeliads (1973) and Baensch's Blooming Bromeliads (1994) showing that the Americans were aware of the error. Werner Rauh in Bromeliads for the Home Garden and Greenhouse (1979) followed Lyman Smith! The correct description for Aechmea nudicaulis v. aureo-rosea is petals yellow with a red base, sepals and ovary a dirty red." This agrees with the plant obtained from seed from Adda so many years ago! (see 'Uncle Derek Says' article)

Finally we come to a different problem. Adda collected a plant which was identified as Vriesea xMorreniana which Andrea Costa showed us in Bromelia 1997 #3 is of horticultural origin and has not been found in the wild. One wonders what Adda's specimen really is and what name it will be known as. It has been suggested that this plant will be known as Vriesea flava but that is to the future.

Botanical interest in Bromeliads by Brazilians has increased so dramatically in recent years that it is hard to imagine that only 30 years ago it was deemed necessary to send herbarium specimens to the USA for identification. May this interest continue.


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