BROMELIADS - THEN AND NOW

(Growing Bromeliads in New Zealand)

By: Bea Hanson

From the Bromeliad Conference held in Adelaide, Australia in 1987

Bea Hanson has been growing Bromeliads seriously for 25 years in New Zealand or is it seriously growing Bromeliads for 25 years Has been what could be termed a tireless worker, having held all Executive positions except Treasurer. In appreciation of her efforts she is now a Life member of the Bromeliad Society of New Zealand. Has written a book on how to grow Bromeliads.

LIKES & DISLIKES - Dislikes giving prepared speeches, likes to keep Tillandsias. She wants to specialise in this genus but finds them difficult to obtain in New Zealand.

When it fell to my lot to give a talk at this gathering of bromeliad nuts I hadn't the vaguest idea what the subject would be. Many of my well-meaning friends made all sorts of suggestions but none really filled me with enthusiasm. Then I thought maybe you might be interested in hearing how we in New Zealand became bitten with the bromeliad bug and how building a collection then compares with those making one now.

I saw my first bromeliad flower when I was in my early teens and, unknown to me I am sure that was when I caught the bug though it was to lie dormant for many years. I was spending my holidays with my grandparents and Gran and I went for a visit to the people on the next farm. When we went inside my eyes alighted on a bowl of the most fascinating flowers I had ever seen. I just couldn't keep my eyes off them - in fact I had to be urged to eat some afternoon tea which, I can assure you, was something that never happened in those days! Our hostess didn't know what the flowers were but said there was a huge clump in the garden when they bought the farm. I never forgot those fascinating flowers but it was to be years before I saw them again.

By this time I was married and one day I saw some in the window of our local florist. In I went and asked what they were. The girl behind the counter was not helpful as she shrugged her shoulders and said she hadn't a clue. Some time later I went to a school fair and on the sales table spied a pot of my mysterious plant. It was labelled 'Billbergia' so I hoped it was right. I went home full of glee with my find but my husband couldn't see what I was raving about.

By now I had become very interested in cacti and succulents and joined the newly formed Society. I also came into contact with the late Muriel Waterman who had a huge collection of those plants. She invited me over to see her collection and I was thrilled with all I saw - especially when I noticed my mysterious Billbergia. I asked her if she knew the name and she said it was B. nutans. She also had several other bromeliads which I thought rather nice. Some of the cactus members grew a few also though I don't know where they got them. In those days we were always told to water cacti very sparingly so the broms got the same treatment and I often think it was a miracle they lived.

A year or so after I had met Muriel she became really keen on broms and her cacti and succulent collection was sold and very soon their places began to be filled with all sorts of bromeliads. Then the rot set in!

We had very few books dealing with bromeliads and she had to learn the hard way - losing many plants by trial and error. She was getting the US Journal which she loaned to me. Through it she contacted Mulford Foster and it wasn't long before parcels began to arrive regularly.

Can you imagine being able to get bromeliads without a permit? It was so easy. We would send for a list, order our plants and send the money and in due course they would arrive at our doors. They were drooled over, potted and put into our collections. The trouble was very few lists gave descriptions of the plants so we didn't know what they looked like. I don't know what others did but I used to read the lists, then order plants whose names I liked. Strangely, I was rarely disappointed and often delighted when I saw the plants that owned the names I had chosen.

I was a perfect menace to my friends I realise now for I was always trying to get them to try a few bromeliads and no doubt boring them to death. One friend rather surprised me when she rang and asked me what she could grow in a difficult corner of her garden. Immediately I said 'Billbergias - they are easy and quite hardy. You can hose them in summer'. She asked me if they were trouble free and I assured her they were. In due course she called in and I gave her a few and didn't hear anything for a long time. Then I got a ring and was greeted with - 'You and your Billbergias! You said they were no bother. Well, they are in the winter. Every time it rains they fill with water and the only way I can get rid of it is to dig them up and empty them and replant them'. This amazing piece of information I greeted in silence!

As our Society had now been formed we were all beginning to send for as many lists as we could. Also, a few more books were becoming available so our knowledge was increasing. My first parcel came from Australia and was a great event for me. I had ordered some 'Spanish Moss' as it was very scarce in our country. The grower had listed it at 1 per piece so I ordered a piece and intended to grow it on and make a fortune. The parcel arrived and I unwrapped all the plants then realised the Spanish Moss was missing. I thought he must have forgotten to send it and wasn't too pleased. Later I took all the paper etc. down to burn it and as I emptied it out of the carton a match box fell out. I was going to throw it into the incinerator but had a look first and was amazed to see, curled up in the box, my pound's worth of moss! That man was aiming to get rich as fast as he could!

Through Muriel Waterman I met a man who had a lovely succulent collection and also some broms. One, in particular, I yearned to possess. It was a soft pink always and the leaves were very shiny. He had two of them and I asked if I could buy one but he refused. One day he arrived with a bag and took out the plant and said he would swap it for a very rare succulent of mine he wanted. Imagine making a decision like that - I dearly wanted the brom but I also loved the succulent. However the brom won and I was a very lucky person to have such a beauty. Not for long though. I found scale on it and sprayed it with the same stuff we used for scale on cactie It was oil based and how was I to know bromeliads hated oil? It wasn't long before the plant showed me - it curled up its leaves and died. Something else I had learned but at what a cost!

It seemed to me that every time I learned something about bromeliads it was usually the hard way! For some time I had noticed small bites had been taken out of the leaf edges of quite a few plants. At first I thought it might be shield beetles but hadn't seen any about. Then two Tillandsias had their flower stems eaten off while some leaves had been eaten and left hanging by a thread. All this was so frustrating - especially the Tillandsia flower stems as they were going to flower for the first time and I hadn't even seen pictures of them. Then one day I tipped a Neoregelia slightly to see if there were any flowers in it. There weren't but there was a beastie looking me straight in the eye and waving its feelers at me. Now I knew the culprit - a weta.

These pests hide in the cups of broms and when you try and get them out they get away down at the bottom. The only way I know of getting them out is to get a piece of wire and make a hook on the end. It is a somewhat delicate operation as one has to be careful not to damage the tender new leaves. With a steady hand you can generally get the thing out and flick it on to the ground and then jump on it. I hate killing anything but must admit I can jump onto a weta and dispatch it without even a shudder. Some of them are really huge and they can give the finger a nasty nip but do no harm to it. I am sure they have a preference for colour. For years I had two Neos. side by side. One was deep red and the other scarlet at all times. It was always the scarlet one the wetas ate! Just to be sure I moved their pups into another house and stood them side by side and again the scarlet one was the chosen one. In desperation I rang the DSIR and asked them what I could do about these pests. They suggested I filled beer bottles with sugar and water and put them round the section in the hedges. Good grief, it would have needed a couple of hundred. In any case I don't like beer so would have had to get my husband to empty the bottles and who am I to put temptation in the way of anyone?

Time marched on and I decided I would send away for another lot of plants. First I rang the "Ag." to see if everything was the same and was told that I must now have a permit and they must be in quarantine for 3 months. Blithely I asked if I could quarantine them in the carport and was told that would be OK. So they came, were put in the carport where the field officer came to inspect them from time to time and still it was pretty easy.

By now I had imported plants from the US, Germany, France, Peru and also from Australia. The collection was growing, our Society membership was growing and the numbers of books available were growing.

At least a year passed then I decided to send for more plants so again rang the "Ag." to see how things were and tell them I would quarantine the plants in the carport. Back came the reply that I would do no such thing. They must now be put into some place right away from other broms and a field officer would come out and inspect it before they would grant a permit. This didn't worry me unduly as I had a shadehouse I thought I could empty and use. Out came the inspector who immediately refused to let me use it. I suggested several other possibilities but all were refused. In the end he said I was to think about it and if I came up with something he would come out again. I was very deflated and went into the house and told my husband it was the end of my importing and told him why. He immediately suggested I should get a small glasshouse we had seen a day or so ago. I guess he couldn't bear the thought of me moaning about thinking of all the broms I couldn't have. We got it, he erected it, it was passed and I got the permit. Had I only known what the future was to hold I would have counted myself very lucky.

Firstly, no more deliveries of plants to the house - now we must go out to the airport for our plants, there was a very large customs fee to be paid on each parcel. However, we got used to it and never thought things could be any worse but we couldn't have been more mistaken. Then, was to be but a memory - now, was to become a reality.

The first time I went out to the airport for a parcel of plants it was all quite easy and I thought it wasn't so bad. Nor were a few times after that. Then I had sprained my knee and gone out after therapy to pick up a parcel. I went to Cargo who said the parcel was there but I would have to go to the overseas terminal and pay the customs fee. I did but had to walk up some narrow concrete steps and my poor knee protesting madly. Reached the place only to be told they didn't take it - I was to go and pay Customs. I must have looked rather forlorn as a man kindly offered to take me down. Down was worse than up for my knee and he had to keep waiting for me. When we got to Customs the man there said a plane was due in and he didn't think he could take any money. My guide sweet talked him and he relented.

If that was a hassle, the next time I went was nothing but a disaster. It was blowing a howling gale and our car is only small and I almost got blown off the road. Eventually reached Cargo only to find a long queue ahead of me. Slowly we moved, I got my papers stamped and was directed to go over to a window and ring the bell. I did and a man came. Yes, the plants were there so I said, pointing to a window that said Customs, do I pay there or to you. I was told I did neither - they couldn't take the money and Customs didn't have a receipt book. Then he pointed to a small building away across the huge paddock and said to go and pay there and come back and I could have the plants.

Battling with the wind I walked along the narrow path. Not a soul in sight until I saw coming towards me another human being. This was a young man who asked me cheerily how I liked the wind! I was blown through the door of the building but no one looked up though they must have heard me. No bell to ring so I have a genteel cough. At last a girl sauntered over and I said I wanted to pay and passed over the papers. She told me to go to the other window, which was closed, and she sauntered down. Why did I have to go there? I have never been able to decide. I paid and then made my way back to Cargo this time with the wind at my back so my journey was a lot faster.

Having arrived I once more rang the bell. Out came two men with a huge carton each. One greeted me with "You will have to drive with your windows open, love, as these cartons stink like hell. You could get poisoned." He was right - they did. I opened all windows and nearly took off in the gusts of wind. By the time I got home eyes and lips were stinging and the car smelled for a week after.

Now certainly doesn't seem as good as then. We are able to get more and more lovely plants but at what a cost, and more is to come.

The latest is that once a Bill goes through Parliament we will have to register our quarantine houses, if passed, for a fee of $500 and we will have to have double doors. Visits from field officers will also have to be paid for. This looks as if the small grower will have to call it a day as far as importing is concerned.

I cannot make up my mind which was best - then or now. Then we were very easily pleased as far as broms were concerned. Now we want more and more and better ones. Then we had few books, now we have so many. We also have the publications put out by other Societies and our knowledge is increasing all the time. But the hassles we have nowadays compared with the easy ways of then. I can't make up my mind - I leave it to you.


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