Proposal for a Bromeliad clone preservation project

This originally appeared in the Advisory Newsletter of the Bromeliad Socity of South Florida
and was authored by Nat DeLeon, Alan Herndon and Karl Green

It has been nearly 60 years since the Bromeliad Society International (BSI) was formed and almost 50 years since the Bromeliad Society of South Florida (BSSF) was organized as an affiliate of the BSI. During this period, bromeliads have gone from being hard-to-find plants of interest to only a small cadre of highly motivated (some might say obsessed) collectors to a mainstream crop easily available to every American in local stores.

Along with the shift from collectible to commodity, large numbers of species were imported and huge numbers of hybrids were created to meet the demands of the mass market. As newer hybrids took over an ever larger share of the market, older clones began to disappear from sight. Many examples can be cited by people growing bromeliads 30-40 years ago. For example, we no longer have any idea where to find Aechmea fulgens discolor ‘Magnificent’, if it still exists. Nor have we seen Aechmea pineliana minuta in recent years. The small form of Aechmea tillandsioide, that was commonly grown in southern Florida 30 years ago, now seems to be represented only by the albomarginate clone.

Note that the term clone is used both to describe genetically distinct collections of species and different hybrids. In general, a clone represents a group of genetically identical plants. These clones are commonly produced by asexual reproduction (i.e., not grown from seed). Each collection of a species in the wild almost always represents a genetically distinct clone. In the same way, virtually every seedling produced by crossing distinct clones of a single species (Aechmea chantinii is a good example)represents the start of a new distinct clone. In practice, we are not going to genotype plants, we will only recognize clones where the genetic difference manifests itself in the appearance of the plant. The same considerations apply to hybrid clones. We are only concerned with clones that differ in appearance.

Some of the old clones have undoubtedly disappeared, but bromeliads are a remarkably hardy group of plants, and many of the older plants may still exist in the odd corners of small (or large) collections. As time passes, identification of these clones becomes harder as labels are lost in the normal course of events and memories fade. There is also a slow but steady loss of plants in even the best maintained collections. Natural disasters (windstorms and floods, in particular) can lead to catastrophic losses in both plants and the labels attached to the plants. However, the most serious risk of wholesale loss in older collections occur when the owners die, move or become too ill to care for their plants.

Clone Project Information on the BSSF Web Site

Clone Project Updates