The Bromeliad family, Bromeliaceae, also known as the pineapple family is a tropical group of plants native to the New World, distributed from the southern United States to southern Argentina and Chile, and one species, Pitcarnia feliciana, is native to West Africa. This group of extraordinary plants grows mainly in trees in tropical rain forests and moist mountain forests, but some species are also terrestrial. Most people are familiar with the edible bromeliad fruit, the pineapple, Ananas comosus, and the North American native, Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides.
The bromeliad family consists of about 50 genera and about 2000 species
of different colored, shaped and sized
plants. Most bromeliads are herbaceous. Many are characterized
as being epiphytic, meaning that they do not need to derive nutrients from
the soil and therefore live on tree branches, rotting stumps, or cacti.
This does not mean they are parasitic and derive nutrients from their hosts,
but they manufacture their own nutrients from air-borne particles and decaying
plant and animal life around them. Their roots function to absorb
moisture from the humid air of the forests and to support the plant.
They attach themselves very tightly to their hosts. Instead of roots
absorbing nutrients and water from the soil, some species have white scales
that act as sponges covering the plant. Sometimes these scales form
bands which make the foliage of the plants quite decorative.
When Christopher Columbus took his second voyage to the New World in
1493 he discovered the pineapple that was being cultivated in the West
Indies. He brought a plant back to Spain and it was accepted and
became popular. The cultivation of the pineapple did not take place
in Europe until the seventeenth century when glasshouses stated to become
popular. These houses were quite expensive, so the hobby was strictly
for the rich.
It was recorded that pineapples were grown in the kitchen garden at Versailles
toward the end of 1700. In 1753 Linnaeus published his Species Plantarium,
in which he listed fourteen different bromeliad species in two genera,
Bromelia and Tillandsia. Later, newer genera were introduced and
in the late eighteenth century the French botanist, Auguste Jaume de Saint-Hilaire
established the family, Bromeliaceae.
The most economically important species in the Bromeliad family is the
pineapple, Ananas comosus. The crop is grown commercially
in the tropics and sub tropics worldwide for fresh sale, canning, or juice
production. The fruit offers a good source of Vitamins A and B.
Various species of other bromeliads including the pineapple are used to
produce fibers from the leaves. Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides
is used in the upholstery industry as a substitute for horsehair.
Many species are grown as ornamentals for temperate region houseplants.
All living things in the rain forest work together in a mutualistic
relationship to sustain life. Animals depend
on trees for food, shelter and protection, while the trees depend on the
animals, smaller plants, and microorganisms for nutrients. Huge tree
branches provide platforms for a multitude of epiphytes- plants that grow
on other plants but donít draw nutrients from them-such as ferns, bromeliads,
orchids and vines.
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