ORTGIESIA - A SUBGENUS OF AECHMEA

By: Derek Butcher and Peter Franklin

Notes from a continuing project.

The name Ortgiesia was first used by Regel in 1867 to cover his Ortgiesia tillandsioides which we now know as Aechmea recurvata var. recurvata. The word Ortgiesia was derived from the name of a Spanish botanist - (or was he Swiss?), but one wonders what Regel thought a Tillandsia looked like, because the literal meaning of the species name' tillandsioides' is 'like a Tillandsia'. How things do change over time! Since that time, the name Ortgiesia has been on the lips of many botanists. Only recently we saw it resurrected to genus status, but only for a short time. The genus Aechmea is the dumping ground for many of the odd-bod species in the Bromelioideae sub-family but we believe that the species in the sub-genus Ortgiesia are sufficiently distinct from the other odd-bods to be treated at generic status. However, we ain't botanists!

In Australia, Ortgiesia is not a strange word and is used quite frequently. In fact by the time you have finished reading this, you too will be getting used to the word. This plant group has its origins in Santa Catarina which is a State of Brazil, just south of Rio de Janeiro. Santa Catarina is roughly the same latitude as the south - east of Queensland and northern New South Wales. It has a similar climate with both rainfall and temperature occuring in a similar pattern to the Australian east coast. All in all, it is no wonder that this group of plants like growing there and do not particularly mind our cool winters. They are popular with beginners and connoiseurs alike. Whilst it is easy to recognise an Ortgiesia in general, it is not easy to recognise all the individual species. Lyman Smith was renowned for his ability to recognise herbarium specimens, but it is said he was not so good with live material. It is most curious, therefore, that his Key for Ortgiesia is based on petal colour. This suggests that even he found it difficult to separate the different species using his normal techniques.

We have over the years collected and flowered many of this group and are forever asking each other's opinion as to names. We have even tried to get experts overseas to investigate, but to no avail. When that happens you do it yourself.

Written descriptions and authenticated photographs do help in linking a plant to a name but it is difficult to decide what is a species and what is a hybrid. We have great fun trying to catch each other out with names and we have great difficulty in proving the pedigree of the specimen. We even try to establish pedigree by growing on from self-set seed. And there are so many questions!

Where did the plant come from?

Are the ones of the same name, grown in different parts of the world, actually the same plant?

Is it a recently imported plant?

Was it grown from seed?

Where did the seed come from? South America? From the wild or from a collection? BSI Seed bank? 'Collected' in the USA? 'Collected' in Australia? Certainly not conclusive evidence, but it is nevertheless nice to know.

Does this group hybridise easily, or does it need human intervention?

Why do so many of the supposed hybrids set their own seed?

Are the species presently described by botanists authentic species or are they too of hybrid origin?

Why are there so many Ortgiesia plants in our collections that are unnamed?

Why are there so many plants that NEARLY fit the descriptions, but not quite?

Are some of the unnamed or misnamed plants that we currently grow, really a good species?

Why are there so many variegated plants in this group? To date there are variegated forms of apocalyptica, caudata (2), coelestis, comata(2), cylindrata (2), gamosepala (2), kertesziae, pimenti-velosoi, and recurvata. Lots and lots of questions and some will be answered as we proceed.

Ortgiesia map
Ortgiesia map
All the species come from a fairly restricted area in South east Brazil with Rio de Janeiro in the middle on the Tropic of Capricorn, marked with dotted lines.

What characteristics must a plant have to be considered to be an Ortgiesia?

"Inflorescence compound or simple, lax or dense, typically nidular but usually scapose. Floral bracts not decurrent and not forming pouches; flowers sessile. Sepals connate for one third to one half their length, their mucros about as long as their free lobes; petals distinctly appendaged."

Aechmea gamosepala drawing
gamosepala drawing
The best way of understanding this is by looking at a botanical drawing and a good example is that given for Aechmea gamosepala.

Note the floral bract in B and the sepals in C. Don't be worried about the drawing of the inflorescence of Aechmea gamosepala. This will be discussed later!

Aechmea gamosepala floral bract (B) and sepals (C)
floral bract (B) and sepals (C)

The combination of mucronate and connate sepals distinguishes these Ortgiesia from the other Aechmea species. Within Ortgiesia, variations occur in the inflorescence shape, colour, and furry covering as well as other differences.

In our interpretation of Ortgiesia we have included Aechmea kleinii. This was treated by Smith and Downs in the sub - genus Pothuava (which includes Aechmea nudicaulis) despite it being compared with Aechmea comata by Reitz in the original description, and despite the Reitz description mentioning connate sepals. In fact when you read the descriptions of A. kleinii and A. comata carefully, there is very little difference other than the leaf structure, although emphasis was placed on A. kleinii being nocturnal flowering. This phenomenon has not been checked on any of the other species in this sub-genus, but when you find out that A. kleinii flowers are supposed to open at midnight and remain open until midday, you start to wonder exactly what nocturnal means. Is there someone prepared to sit up through the night with their Ortgiesia and a torch to check this ! If so please be careful because Uncle Derek did this once in his front garden, and during the night a car with a blue light on top stopped and one of the uniformed officers was heard to say "Hello, hello, hello" assuming he had found a Peeping Tom! When Auntie Margaret came out to find what was wrong, she was asked "Are you his Mother?" This really raised the temperature!

We have excluded Aechmea lymanii because this has more than one flower per node and seems better treated in the sub - genus Aechmea. Smith and Downs made a bit of a mess of Aechmea bicolor which seems more closely related to Aechmea lingulata and thus not an Ortgiesia. The recently named Aechmea burle-marxii seems to be in the same category. Let us look at what is left.

The various species seem to fit into four general categories.

  1. Leaves triangular, stiff and erect
      Includes:

  2. Leaves ligulate (strap-shaped) and leathery

    a) Inflorescence simple and dense
      Includes:

    b) Inflorescence simple and lax
      Includes:

    c) Inflorescence branched at base
      Includes:

If you disagree with any of our findings or have any comment to make please let us know.

Aechmea PF757
Aechmea PF757
Now for some homework. Please have a look at Aechmea PF757 and tell us where you think it fits. Its inflorescence is simple and seems to be between dense and lax! It has the green sepals of A. winkleri. Is it a small form of A. winkleri, or a new species, or a hybrid?
Aechmea PF757
Aechmea PF757


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