Adapted from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of April 28, 2007
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve,
QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

AN UNUSUAL BROMELIAD

This Wednesday I joined up with a group of Peace Corps volunteers receiving their orientation to the Mexican experience by visiting various communities in the Reserve area. Soon the volunteers will be dispersed throughout the country for two years of many kinds of service. During their two days here we visited projects, hiked and climbed.

On Thursday at San Juan de los Durán, Don Tacho guided us up the very steep trail behind San Juan's eco- bungalows so we could enjoy the view across the valley. It was hard to keep from slipping on the trail not only because of its steepness but also because dry oak leaves created a very slippery surface.

However, the view from the top was worth the trouble. You can see part of the group perched on the cliff-top's jagged limestone, with San Juan in the valley below, where with binoculars we could see a mule walking circles, pressing syrup from sugarcane stems, below:

View from San Juan de los Durán

In that picture, if you look in the lower, left corner, you can make out a cluster of red flowers. You can see a close-up of the plant issuing those flowers below:

cf. PITCAIRNIA RINGENS

Before I could analyze one of the flowers I thought the plant was a Lily-Family member, but soon I realized that we had another bromeliad. However, what a curious bromeliad this was!

First, as pointed out above, the vast majority of bromeliads are epiphytes -- growing on trees -- but this one was clearly rooted among limestone rocks. Second, unlike most bromeliads, the bracts below each blossom in the inflorescence were small and inconspicuous.

Though I can't find illustrations to match this plant, my guess is that it's PITCAIRNIA RINGENS, which has been identified in the area. The genus Pitcairnia is distinguished by most of its species growing in the ground or on cliffs and other rock piles, and having brightly colored inflorescences and flowers. I can find pictures of other Pitcairnia species similar to this.

It was worth the leaf-slippery, arduous climb up the cliff just to see this amazing bromeliad at this most gorgeous stage of its life cycle!