41. KRULIK, GERALD, Hechtia Glabra, An Interesting Terrestrial
, PUP TALK (Saddleback Valley Bromeliad Society), 14(8)p.7-9,
August, 2007.

The genus Hechtia is a group of terrestrial bromeliads, found mostly in Mexico.
Three species are found in the US in Texas (H.texensis, H.glomerata, and H.
scariosa) (1), and a few extend south of Mexico, but most of the about 50
species are found nowhere else. Some of the Hechtia species are fairly
widespread, and can dominate the landscape. Rauh quotes patches of 4 km2  
(1.25 sq miles), of mostly one species. (2) You might have some trouble
identifying an unknown Hechtia species. More than half of the species are
known only from the type collection, and many of them only have one sex
represented. (3)

Many species are actually quite localized. New species are continually being
discovered and described. H. glabra (Brandegee) hails from a small area in the
state of Michoacan, and was described in 1920. (4) It is still poorly known in
cultivation. One gardening site that I checked asked for any submission as to
the flower color and size, saying that they had not seen a flower yet.

I acquired my specimen from a source I have since forgotten, less than ten
years ago. At that time I was still landscaping my yard, so had room for many
things. I believe I put mine in the ground around 1998 or so. The plant that I
bought was fairly small, but it was a terrestrial plant, so I decided to plant it in
the ground under my Plumeria tree. It turns out that the plant is quite a bit
bigger, and nastier, than I realized.

The plant itself is quite attractive. The specific name, glabra, means smooth and
glossy. The epidermis is pleasing to the eye, shiny light greenish gray. Some
web photos and notes say that the plant colors up nicely in bright sunlight. In
my near coastal California environment, the leaves on my plant never turn
color. The leaves are large, up to maybe 18 inches long and 3 or 4 inches wide
at the base. The leaves have an impressed faint pattern of the younger
unfolded leaves on their top surfaces, similar to many Agave leaves. They are
lined along the outside edges with attractive contrasting brownish red spines,
with the red coloring extending into the leaf itself. These spines are nothing to
trifle with!

The spines show up nicely in this reverse-color image. You can see the
impressed pattern on the centermost horizontal leaf.

This plant has two types of spines. The leaf tips have a terminal spine,
extremely sharp, very similar to an Agave spine. Falling Plumeria leaves
routinely impale themselves tightly on the short, stout, but extremely sharp leaf
tips. The stout thick leaves are lined with strong, attractive reddish-brown
spines. And the recurved lines of spines on the edges of the leaves are
difficult to extricate oneself from, once they hook into your clothes or skin. Did I
mention that I garden with a 12 inch stainless steel forceps? This is ideal for
taking trash and weeds from in and around bromeliads and cacti, with minimal
blood loss. These leaves are stout and do not have any bend or give in them.

Be warned-if put in the ground, this is definitely a plant for the out-of-the-way
niche, or for use as a totally impenetrable hedge. However, other members
report (thanks Margaret!) that it bonsai’s nicely in a pot, with a small flower stalk
to match.

My plant has now flowered three times in the past five years. Unlike many
bromeliads, it does not change color when it is time to flower. Of the thousand
or so kinds of plants in our yard, this is the MOST attractive to insects. The
flower stalk on mine reaches about 8 feet in length, with the flowering
inflorescence forming a loose cylinder about two feet in diameter over most of
the length. This fairly well branched inflorescence bears a thick coating of small
white flowers, about one quarter inch across. Hechtias seem to all have two
separate sexes, unlike most bromeliads. Two species of Dyckia, one of
Aechmea, and a few species of Catopsis are the only other genera with
separate sexes. (3) Hechtia species are either male or female, or functionally
male or female. Functionally male or female means that they have both sets of
sex organs, but only one actually functions. My plant is staminate, having only
male sexual parts, so I would also need a female to get seeds. (2, 5)

This view is looking down the faded flowering stem, at the mother plant.   

This color reversal image shows the top of the flower stalk, with the buds still
developing and unopened.

The flowers begin to open at random at the base of individual branches of the
inflorescence, like all bromeliads, but soon the entire set flowers on all of the
branches is fully open all at once. From start of flowering to finish takes 3 to 4
weeks, depending on the weather. Hechtia is different in this aspect of
flowering too, from most other bromeliads. With almost all bromeliads, the
mother head that puts out the flower, will either die without branching, or will
branch and then die. The mother head of Hechtia does not die, and branches
well with or without flowering. More unusually, the mother head continues to
put out flower stalks from the same head, just at a different location on the
caudex. All three of my flowers have come from the same central head.  (2, 6)

Here you can see the flower stalk emerging from the base of the mother head.
The inflorescences run almost all the way to the bottom of the stalk.

I have a keen nose, but the scent of these flowers seems very mild, slightly
sweet and musky. Insects seem to find it irresistible. From the moment the
flowers open, it is mobbed. When it is in fullest flower, it is very interesting to
just watch the animal life. In addition to crab spiders and ants, I have seen all
types of flies, including house, hover, and bee flies; beetles; assassin bugs;
stink bugs; butterflies and moths; lacewings; ladybugs; honey bees; solitary
bees, bumble bees, and wasps; the odd tree cricket; and probably others. This
high floral attraction makes some evolutionary sense. Since the flowers are on
separate plants, it is imperative that pollen be transferred to the females. There
is no option for self-fertilization if pollinators do not show up, as in the case of
bisexual plants.

Here is the tip of the flowering stalk, about 2 weeks away from floral opening.

Here is a small section of the inflorescence, with the white staminate flowers
starting to open.

I also have lots of bulbs in my yard. One of them is the rat poison plant, Urginea
maritima. This bulb flowers in mid-summer when the bulbs are dormant. The
unbranched flower stalk is 6-8 feet high, similar in length to the Hechtia glabra
flower. The stems are thickly lined with small whitish flowers, not too dissimilar
to the bromeliad, but with no odor at all that I can detect. This flower and pollen
attract only the normal complement of pollinators. My feeling is that the faint
musky odor of the Hechtia flowers is the key to their attractiveness.

This last photo shows the inflorescence of Urginea maritima, rotated
horizontally. The flowers in this species open in a broad ring around the stem,
initially at the bottom, then slowly traveling to the top of the stem. This is clearly
shown in the photo, with unopened flowers at the top and spent flowers below
the opened ones.  

All photos are by the author. (see my website at, for all my
articles and color photos. Click the button “Personal Publications”.)

2. Rauh, Werner, Bromeliads for Home, Garden, and Greenhouse, Blandford
Press, 1979.
6. This
reference is from the Digital Flora of Texas, and shows photos of all species, in