Queen’s-tears or friendship plant is a bromeliad native to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina. Easy to grow, propagate, and share among friends, it is one of the most popular bromeliads in cultivation.
One of my life’s little ironies is that despite a love of plants, I only grow a few at home–such is the reality of residing in an urban apartment in an expensive city. However, Billbergia nutans is among those, and its mid-winter blooms (this is a photo from late January) are always cause for some small amount of cheer and fascination. The spiral-ended pistil is foremost among the curiosities. As the flower continues to develop, this spiral unwinds into three vertically-aligned pollen-receiving stigmatic lobes.
Nutans means “nodding”, a presumptive adaptive strategy for this and many other plants of rainforests both temperate and tropical. Nodding inflorescences and flowers (especially with flared-out petals or other floral parts) can act as umbrellas, protecting pollen from degrading through exposure to rainfall. This adaptation is backed by research for some taxa (e.g., Multifunctional bracts in the dove tree Davidia involucrata (Nyssaceae: Cornales): rain protection and pollinator attraction); for many others, it is assumed that this is (one of) the function(s). One can never truly know the purpose(s) of an adaptation unless it is tested scientifically; common sense and observations are exceptionally useful in guessing, but, on occasion, wrong. This is something I discuss in my Plant Adaptations of Temperate Rainforest Plants presentation. If you’re a local, I’ll be giving the lecture next Monday (March 26) to the Pacific Northwest Palm and Exotic Plant Society (see News and Events).
More information about Billbergia nutans is available from the Royal Horticultural Society (growing Billbergia nutans) and the University of Connecticut Biodiversity Education & Research Greenhouses: flowering data and images. You can also read about it and other “hand-me-down” plants via Larry Hodgson’s Laidback Gardener article: Hand-Me-Down Houseplants (and, yes, mine is a hand-me-down); Larry notes that this was a popular winter holiday houseplant in the 1930s.
The genus is named in honour of Swedish botanist Gustaf Billberg.
An update on the progress being made updating / tagging old entries: I’m 28% of the way through; I decided to treat myself (and you) by organizing one of the reasons for the effort on the revisions. You can now browse the Botany Photo of the Day Archives by Garden. There are presently 44 different botanical institutions represented (across 12 countries). I would guess that once I am caught up with revising the old entries, there will be over a hundred botanical institutions represented in the archives–a not-insignificant slice of the 2500 or so botanical institutions that are members of Botanic Gardens Conservation International.