bilbergia nutans

A Plant to Share: Billbergia Nutans

The cold weather this spring has meant that there is less than usual in flower in the garden. So I had to look elsewhere for something to photograph this week.

Luckily I only had to go as far as the conservatory to find a plant in full flower. This is Billbergia nutans (aka ‘friendship plant’ or ‘queen’s tears’ ), a bromeliad that comes from South America. There it can be found growing attached to the branches of trees in the rainforest. Despite the huge difference in conditions, it seems quite content as a houseplant and is very easy to grow.

This billbergia must be pretty hardy, because our conservatory is unheated and gets cold in winter. (The conservatory is used more as an indoor garden than as a normal living area and in the winter usually has plants brought in that wouldn’t survive outside.) There is sun in the morning and early afternoon, followed by shade and this seems to suit the plant well. It grows fast, and after being split in two, has quickly filled both pots.

Billbergia produces leaves which grow in rosettes with the flower stalk at the centre. These leaves are long and arching and as they grow older, their edges develop tiny spikes. For most of the year this is a very plain-looking plant with nothing to show but its clump of green leaves. But while it’s in flower, it does look quite spectacular.

The speed at which billbergia grows and produces offsets means that it really does deserve the name ‘friendship plant’. The young rosettes at the outer edges of the plant can be detached (when they’re at least 6 inches high) and potted up as new plants. The other name, ‘queen’s tears’ comes from the way that the flowers drip nectar onto the ground. (It’s very sticky!)

My plants have tightly filled their pots now, so I think it will soon be time to remove some of the young offsets. That means that some new plants will go out into the world, continuing the chain of shared plants. A happy thought!

Bilbergia nutans

17 thoughts on “A Plant to Share: Billbergia Nutans

    1. Thanks Indira! I bought it at a charity plant stall when it was very small…had never come across it before and had no idea what it would look like. So when it flowered, I got a happy surprise! πŸ™‚

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    1. It is a strange-looking flower! I had no idea what to expect when I bought the plant – knew nothing about it – so the flowers were quite a surprise! πŸ™‚

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  1. Weirdly, the flowers and stems of the flowers remind me of friendship bracelets, the ones plaited and weaved from different colour strands of embroidery silk. Still have some from my hippie college days. The frayed edges did not drip sticky nectar though.

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    1. I can see where you’re coming from with that, especially with the narrow edge of blue in the flowers. But it’s a very good thing that the bracelets didn’t drip nectar, hehe!

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    1. Ours actually manages to be a bit cooler than the garden in summer, but we have doors at both ends, so any air movement does cool it. I do love it but haven’t had time to make the most of it yet. I think it also keeps the rest of the house a bit warmer in winter because there were already two sets of French doors and windows, so the conservatory acts as an extra layer of insulation.

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    1. Thanks Syd! Our conservatory is suddenly almost empty as many of the plants have gone outside now that the nights are warmer. More space for us! But now I’m wondering what I can grow to make it look pretty… πŸ™‚

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      1. I suspect you have a few things in mind! HaHa! I am adding a few Pentas and Lantanas into my front yard tomorrow – they attract butterflies and I love to photograph them! Not as fancy as your beautiful blooms though!

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    1. It’s happy enough in the conservatory, though the air is pretty dry. I don’t think it would last long outdoors, but might be OK in summer for a while. They’re tough plants!


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