43.  KRULIK, GERALD, The Biggest Tank Bromeliad, PUP TALK
(Saddleback Valley Bromeliad Society), 14(9) p.5-7, September, 2007.

The Biggest Tank Bromeliad

By Jerry Krulik

We all know that Bromeliads, like most large plant groups, come in many
different shapes and sizes. The largest Bromeliads are in the genus Puya, with
Puya raimondii the largest of them all. The smallest, in my opinion, is one single
nodal section of Tillandsia usenoides. We think of this plant as being a web or
string, but it is just a clump of runners. Each tiny segment is quite capable of
independent existence and growth.

Most people consider the tank-types among the loveliest of bromeliads. Tanks
are the large water-holding depression at the center of the leaves, or the
smaller ones associated with the junction of the trunk and the leaf bases. It is
among this group of bromeliads that there appear to be the widest range of
decorative leaf colors and textures, with all degrees of spineyness and

We are all familiar with that bromeliad that just grows too big for our property, if
we don’t live on a sufficiently large plot of land. Many people are very limited
for space, so are constantly trimming and disposing of, those extra pups that
would otherwise make a huge cluster. But what of the single headed large
plant? Just how big do these single tank bromeliads get?

I think most of us have seen very large tank bromeliads, either in public
plantings or at specialist nurseries. I have seen many Tillandsia, Vriesia, and
Alcanteria species in large sizes, too large to carry let alone fit into my yard.
Many of these are a meter across (3.3 feet, for the uninitiated). Remember that
Tillandsia, Vriesia, and Alcanteria are all very closely related, and not too long
ago were one, then two, and now three genera.

Alcantarea species seem to be naturally among the largest tank plants. A.
reginae, A. nevaresii, and A. imperialis can reach 1 meter to 1.5 meters
diameter, according to the literature. Here is a photo of A. imperialis. (1)

Here is another photo, of the apex, from (2).

Vriesias can also get to impressive dimensions. In fact, V.hieroglyphica can
reach 1.5 meters in diameter (about 5 feet across). The photo is from (3).

Tillandsias also seem to get large. T. grandis and T. australis are often quoted
as exceeding one meter in diameter at maturity. How many of you know of
Tillandsia paniculata from the Dominican Republic? This unusual and evidently
very rare Tillandsia can reach a rosette size of 2.1 meters (7 feet) in diameter. It
has a flower stalk that can reach 3.3 meters (11 ft) tall and 3 meters (10 ft) in
diameter. Surely this is not a plant for the average garden. (4)

So among this group of three genera of tank bromeliads, this is the largest that
I have been able to identify. None of the other tank genera, Aechmea,
Hohenbergia, Catopsis, etc, have any species that are even close to this in size.

BUT, then there is Glomeropitcairnia! Perhaps this plant is a bit unfamiliar? It
certainly is a rare genus. I do not remember ever seeing one of these in
cultivation in California. There are only two species, G. erectiflora from
Venezuela and offshore islands, and G. penduliflora, from the Lesser Antilles.
Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora is the smaller species. It reaches 2 meters or so in
diameter, about the same size as Tillandsia paniculata, but with a shorter
narrower flower stalk. See
l=eng&country=ven&park=ecnp&page=bio#, for information on G.erectiflora in
the Venezuelan park. (5)

The other species, G. penduliflora, is a true giant. It can reach 3.3 meters (ten ft)
in diameter, and grows in rain forest trees and on the ground. Now, a ten foot
leaf cluster is remarkable on a bromeliad. If you do the math, you will see that a
3.3 meter diameter plant covers more than 8.5 square meters, compared to only
3.14 square meters for the next biggest bromeliads of 2 meters diameter. Not
many photos are available. This photo was taken by Dr. Walter Till, who
published an article in the J.Bromeliad Society.(6) This photo itself is from http:
//, as the BSI web
site is still ramping up their back issues for web searching (7).

There is not an overabundance of information available about these two plants.
Despite the name, Glomeropitcairnia has been shown to be a member of the
Tillandsioideae, not the Pitcairnioideae. It appears to be most closely related to
Guzmania and Mezobromelia. (8) The best set of information is on the smaller
plant, G. erectiflora. This grows in abundance in one of the National Parks of
Venezuela, where you can see it on a web site. (5)

But what about tank capacity, you may ask? This is an important part of the plant’
s ecology. G. erectiflora is said to have the ability to hold 20 liters (5 gallons) of
water in its rosette. If we use this as the basis, and go to the larger rosette of G.
penduliflora, we could expect the tanks to hold up to 50+ liters of water (13
gallons). Of course, we still don’t know why they store so much water.

Tank bromeliads, because of their ability to store water in open containers,
support a very diverse flora and fauna. Cacti and orchids also store water, but
hidden deep with their plant tissues, and protected by thorns, tough skin, and
toxic chemicals. Bromeliads apparently freely share their water with all sorts of
organisms, who take advantage of these living quarters. Continuing my web
search on Glomeropitcairnia, I found that at least two interesting animals are
found only in G. erectiflora. See the photo below for this plant. (9)

The first animal is Chactas raymondhandsi, a scorpion that has only been
collected from this plant. This moderate sized arachnid is about 2.5 inches long
(50-60 mm). The only place it has been found is in the water filled leaf sheaths. It
has special adaptation to hold air around its book lungs, so it is an unusual, at
least semi-aquatic, scorpion. (10)
Here is a photo of Chactas camposi, a closely related species. (11)

The second animal is a bit more appealing (12).

Phyllodytes auratus is a cute little golden tree frog about 35 mm (1.5 inches)
long (12), smaller than the scorpion. The only place it lives, apparently, is in the
tanks of G. erectiflora. They even breed in the water-filled tanks. I would prefer
to find this in my plants, instead of the scorpion. There are 7 species in this
genus in South and Central America, adapted to living in tank bromeliads. P.
auratus has a clearly flattened body and head, allowing it to hide and move
easily among the leaves. It is so far only found in the Trinidad population of G.
erectiflora. This genus of frogs are not totally ‘cuddly’ though. Unlike most
frogs, they have small serrated teeth and fangs. The fangs are bigger on the
lower jaw and the males use them to fight each other. Only one frog is found on
a plant. Maybe if you see one, it is best to let sleeping frogs lie.

This species is known only from the type locality, the summit of Aripo, in the
Northern Range, and probably also Morne Bleu Ridge, Trinidad Island, in
Trinidad and Tobago. The total range of the species is estimated to be 10 km² or
less. It is known from around 940m on the mountain. It is considered to be
endangered. (13)

So this is a summary of information about the largest of tank bromeliads,
Glomeropitcairnia. Perhaps ecologists will find even more unusual animals in
the even bigger plant of G. penduliflora, when it is closely examined in the wild.





Bromeliad Soc Vol 9(4), p54 (1959)


6. Till, W., H. Halbritter, G. Gortan. Some notes on the remarkable bromeliad
genus Glomeropitcairnia. J.Bromeliad Soc 47: 65-72 (1997)


8. Gilmartin, A.J., G. K. Brown, G. S. Varadarajan, M. Neighbours, Status of
Glomeropitcairnia within Evolutionary History of Bromeliaceae,
Systematic Botany, Vol 14(3), pp. 339-348 (Jul. - Sep., 1989)

9.   Cite: Naked Image - Image of Bromeliaceae
Glomeropitcairnia erectiflora

10. Francke, O.F. and J. Boos, J.Arachnol. 14(15-28) 1986. Chactidae
(Scorpiones) from Trinidad and Tobago.