Florida is one of
the fastest growing areas of development in the
United States. The
habitats of plants and
animals are being destroyed at an unprecedented
rate. Especially at risk
in recent years have been the marginal wetlands, marshy
tidal areas, useless in their natural condition for building.
These have been often indiscriminately filled and developed,
resulting in the destruction of important biological
communities. Scientists have discovered that such wetlands,
especially those with well-developed Mangroves, are Important
in that they supply much organic matter to the sea. Much of
this organic debris, particularly the leaves of the Mangrove,
forms the base of a food chain that nourishes the young of
important reef fish species.
||Such development in the South Florida area has also eliminated the natural
habitats of several species of air plant or Bromeliad.
Interestingly, some of these now uncommon Floridian species
are still relatively common here in the Bahamas where
hopefully they will continue to thrive.
The family Bromeliaceae is widespread throughout South America and
southern North America, and is best known for the pineapple.
Columbus discovered the pineapple on his second voyage to the
New World. Bahamian pineapples were once world-famous however
the bulk of the world’s pineapples are now grown in Hawaii,
where as recently as 1911 James Dole started to farm the first
12 acres of pineapple plantation. Our Bahamian air plants all
belong to the genus Tillandsia, the largest genus with more
species than any other. They are all epiphytes, growing on
trees but not taking nourishment from them.
T. fasciculata (above), by far the most common species, is also known as the Stiff-leaved wild
pine. A highly variable species, it may adorn trees In huge
clumps. Early in the year the tiny violet flowers emerge from
between the bracts of the robust branching flower stalk. In
the Bahamas this species never occurs so densely as on the
live oaks of Florida. The live oak has a deeply furrowed bark
that is favoured by the seedlings of air plants. Although the
live oak is found in the hammocks of the Everglades National
Park of Florida, and also in the northern parts of Cuba, it
does not occur in the Bahamas. No doubt it would thrive if
||The Bahamas largest Bromeliad Is
T. utriculata (left) whose leaves may be in
excess of two feet long. Its large rosettes occur singly in
Several species are more particular in their habitat requirements.
Buttonwood is the favoured host tree of the Hoary air plant, T.
pruinosa. These plants are covered with silvery
moisture-absorbing scales. Their short twisted leaves extend
from a bulbous base giving them the appearance of small
Rare now in Florida is the interesting Banded wild pine T. flexuosa,
the leaves of which spiral upwards from the base. This again
is a plant with fairly specific habitat requirements. It
prefers to grow on dead branches where many may be found in
just one part of a particular tree.
The Red Mangrove is the preferred habitat of the Reflexed Wild Pine, T.
balbisiana. Growing like pruinosa from a bulbous base, the leaves are long
By far the most well known Bromeliad, apart from the pineapple, and probably
also the most badly named is the Spanish Moss (left), which
drapes Oaks, Pines, and Cypresses throughout the Southern States.
Neither a moss, nor from Spain, the elongated filamentous stems
and leaves are covered with minute scales that absorb nutrient-rich
water washed down from the tree upon which it is growing.
found growing wild in the Bahamas, it has been introduced to some
gardens in New Providence. One garden in the Village
Road area of Nassau has a tree festooned with this plant. I
have also seen it along Bernard Road.
The rosettes of leaves may contain a considerable quantity of rainwater,
which can be absorbed by the leaf bases. This water often
forms a microhabitat for a great variety of aquatic animals.
In South and Central America, where air plants may
reach great sizes, the assortment of animal life from one air
plant may be truly amazing. Frogs, insect larvae, protozoa,
algae, even crabs and fish may live their entire lives in the
cup formed by the leaves of Bromeliads.
One of the largest species Vriesia imperialis may hold up to 12 gallons of
water, sufficient for hundreds of small organisms. Sufficient
in fact to slake the thirst of Man should he so require it. It
is reported that the earliest explorers in the Everglades
survived droughts by sipping front the cups of air plants.
These unusual and attractive plants are often difficult to
find, but are well worth the effort of the search. One problem
that these plants have suffered from, apart from habitat
destruction is collection. In Florida they have been collected
and sold commercially, often as gifts to people who have no
interest In them and cannot take care of them. They are
nowadays sold across Britain and Europe on seashells as
ornaments. No doubt in most instances they soon die. In such
conditions they will certainly not flower and never be able to
To a limited extent collection is also being carried out in Nassau. With
Bromeliads, as with orchids, this can be a dangerous practice.
The collectors frequently take them simply became they are
attractive with no thought for their rarity An endangered
species which may be locally common can be wiped out very
quickly in this way.
The people of the Bahamas must protect their diminishing flora and fauna
in every way possible, and hope that the Bahamian Bromeliads
do not go the same way as those of Florida, where as far back
as 1932 Charles Torey Simpson wrote: “Looking back to the
days when South Florida was a beautiful wilderness with
magnificent wildlife, and then contemplating the wreck of
today, it is enough to sicken the heart of a lover of Nature.
If things go on here as in the past few years, this can only
end in the destruction of all that is lovely and of value that
Nature has bestowed on us”
© R. Attrill 2000