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Plant Highlight: Ochagavia litoralis

October 2011

The Bromeliad Family (Bromeliaceae) has some species which grow in the ground (referred to as terrestrial bromeliads), along with others which grow epiphytically, commonly perched on the branches of trees or shrubs, but sometimes on rocks or fences or even telephone wires.  Among the terrestrial species is Ochagavia litoralis, from Chile.  This plant is often grown under the name Ochagavia carnea or Ochagavia lindleyana, but those who have investigated it say the correct name is Ochagavia litoralis.

Ochagavia litoralis is a clump-forming stemless species, with rosettes of leaves which arch outward.  The leaves are smooth and gray-green on the upper side, and glaucous-green on the underside due to a coating of silvery scales.  They can be up to 20 inches long (50 cm), but are commonly less than this.  At the Ruth Bancroft Garden, our plants have leaves to about 15 to 17 inches long (38 to 43 mm).  The sword-like leaves are succulent at the middle and taper gradually from the base, where they are a little over an inch wide (25 mm), to the pointed tips.  They have small, sharp, forward-curved teeth along the edges.

The flowers of Ochagavia litoralis are quite attractive, but plants do not flower every year.  The flower cluster emerges from the center of the rosette, with the leaves morphing into wide pink bracts which form a cup holding the rounded head of flowers.  The whole cluster is about 3 to 3½ inches across (75 to 90 mm), and the individual flowers are tubular, with pink sepals and violet-pink petals.  The 6 stamens, tipped with orange anthers, emerge from within the petals.  As the pollen ripens, the orange of the anthers gives way to pale yellow.

Ochagavia litoralis is quite easy to grow in our area, perhaps owing to the similarity between the climate of coastal California and that of coastal central Chile, where it is found in nature.  It is not particular as to soil type, and can grow in sun or shade.  At RBG, it flowers in September to early October.