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Blooming habit at Yby Yau, Paraguay.
Origin and Habitat: Bolivia and Central Brazil to Paraguay and northern Argentina (provinces of Salta, Formosa, Chaco, Corrientes, and Misiones). Here occasionally also cultivated.
Type locality: Gran Chaco, Argentina.
Habitat and ecology: Gran Chaco ecoregion. This species is a terrestrial herb that grows in the understory of Chaco and Cerrado woodlands and often forms the ground layer together with other bromeliads and cacti such as: the firecracker cactus or scarlet bugler (Cleistocactus baumanii) and Aechmea distichantha, just to cite some of the more common. It reproduces by stolons. The species is particularly under threat from habitat conversion to agriculture and desertification. Farmers consider it a weed, because its thorns frighten the cattle, so sometimes they burn the chaguarales (dense colonies of bromeliads) during the dry season. The colonies of Bromelia serra act as traps capturing propagules and litter falling from the canopy. Therefore, they seem to be important microsites for seed accumulation of woody species. However, it is not known whether bromeliads are a safe site for seedling establishment.
Bromelia serra Griseb.
Abh. Königl. Ges. Wiss. Göttingen 24: 328 (1879)
- Bromelia serra Griseb.
- Karatas serra (Griseb.) Burkill
- Bromelia lindmanii Mez
- Karatas laciniosa Lindm.
- Bromelia serra f. variegata (M.B.Foster) M.B.Foster ex L.B.Sm.
- Bromelia serra var. variegata M.B.Foster
- Rhodostachys argentina Baker
ENGLISH: bayonet bromeliad
GUARANI (Avañe’ẽ): caraguatá
QUECHUA (Runasimi / Qhichwa simi): chaguar
SPANISH (Español): Caraguatá, chaguar, chaguar morado, Cardo gancho, Cháguar
Description: Bromelia serra is a strictly terrestrial stemless, bromeliad with soil-exploring roots capable of making dense colonies by means of elongate scaly underground rhizomes. The numerous narrow, spiny-edged leaves forms a somewhat flattened rosette up to 40 cm high. The flower stem short. When in bloom, the central leaves surrounding the inflorescence turn a deep cardinal red colour making it very showy. The actual flowers are somewhat hidden down in a globular flower-head in the very middle of the plant. The petals are blue- purple, and are subtended by bright red, stiff, spiny bracts up to 20 cm long beneath the flower-head. The woolly white covering of the flower-head is conspicuous.
Leaves: Many in a dense rosette, hairy, green above, ash-coloured, beneath 1.5 m long; sheaths ample, forming a bulb, densely tomentose; blades linear, attenuate, not constricted at base, 4 cm wide, laxly saw-like with hooked spines bent forward 5 mm long.
Inflorescences: Scape short, stout, densely pubescent; scape-bracts stiff, spiny, leaf-like, imbricate, bright red up to 20 cm long beneath the flower-head. Inflorescence globose, 6 cm in diameter; primary bracts broadly ovate, 4 cm long, bearing long leaf-like blades covering most of the clustered flowers. Flowering branches short, 5-9-flowered. Floral bracts 30 mm long, exceeding the ovary, 11 mm wide, toothed, pale hairy. Pedicels 5-10 mm long in fruit.
Flowers: Almost stemless, 4-5 cm long. Sepals free, oblong, 15 mm long, 5 mm wide, entire or sparsely toothed, white pubescent. Petals elliptic, blue-purple with white base and margins. Stamens included, forming a tube 3 mm high. Ovary subcylindric, angled, 2 cm long. Fruit ovoid, 40 mm long, 25 mm in diameter.
Bibliography: Major references and further lectures
1) Peter Hanelt, Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research “Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops: (Except Ornamentals)” Springer Science & Business Media, 10 April 2001
2) “Flora Neotropica”, Edition 14, Part 3 Organization for Flora Neotropica, 1979
3) Sean Hogan “Flora: A Gardener's Encyclopedia”, Volume 1 Timber Press, 2003
4) Arenas, Pastor. “Las bromeliáceas textiles utilizadas por los indígenas del Gran Chaco.” in Parodiana, Volumen 10 (1-2), Buenos Aires.1997.
5) Van Dame, C. “Condiciones para un uso sostenible: el caso del Chaguar (Bromelia) en una comunidad Wichí del chaco argentino.” 2001.
6) Sánchez-Monge, “Flora Agricola.” Tom I. Min. de Agricult., Pesca y Alimentation, Madrid, 1991
7) Joyce A. Quinn, Susan L. Woodward “Earth's Landscape: An Encyclopedia of the World's Geographic Features [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of the World's Geographic Features” ABC-CLIO, 03 February 2015
8) Elmer S. Miller “Peoples of the Gran Chaco” Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001
9) Huxley. A. “The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening” MacMillan Press 1992.
10) Ignacio Martín Barberis, Silvia Irene Boccanelli, Claudia Alzugaray “Terrestrial bromeliads as seed accumulation microsites in a xerophytic forest of Southern Chaco, Argentina” BOSQUE 32(1): 57-63, 2011
11) Ignacio M. Barberis , Patricia S. Torres, William B. Batista, Gustavo Magra, Luciano Galetti, Juan Pablo Lewis “Two bromeliad species with contrasting functional traits partition the understory space in a South American xerophytic forest: correlative evidence of environmental control and limited dispersal” Plant Ecology February 2014 (First online: 14 December 2013), Volume 215, Issue 2, pp 143-153
Cultivation and Propagation: Bromelia serra is a sometime cultivated due to the beauty of the foliage and of the inflorescence and the facility of cultivation. The leaf turns bright red when flowering. The flower is purple and not very conspicuous. It a good ground cover in xeric gardens, but the spines are wicked as some pineapples (Ananas). They may form a low ground cover that will keep the neighbor's dog out if it is wide enough. This species will grows on rocks or on top of the ground but it will grow faster if rooted in well drained soil.
Growing substrate: It requires a well-drained, aerated, gritty, humus rich, neutral to acidic, and moisture-retentive substratum (e.g. 2 parts peat moss to 1 part loam to 1 part sand or perlite).
Exposition: It will grow in any exposure from full sun to full shade. Growth is faster and the leaves are more rigid in full sun..
Watering: In summer it enjoys constant moderate waterings from rain or sprinkler, but allow the plant to dry in-between waterings, and reduced in winter. However it is quite drought-tolerant. Requires complete and perfect drainage as root rot can be a problem if the soil is too moist.
Fertilizing: Fertilize every 4-week during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer diluted to ½ the strength recommended on the label. Apply mild solutions (one-quartet strength) of foliar fertilizer at 3-month intervals to both garden and container plants.
Hardiness: This Bromelia does not like the cold. It is cultivated in open air in the tropical and subtropical climate countries, with temperatures which it is good to keep over the 14°C, best 20-24°C , but can withstand light frost for short periods if very dry (hardy down to -2, even if with damage to the foliage) in these situations it will better resist if sheltered by the winter rains, seen that the humidity and low temperatures render it more sensitive to rottenness. Plants in containers however, suffered major leaf loss. USDA Zone 9b to 11
Pest & diseases: It is susceptible to scale, trips and mosquitos that will sometimes breed in the pools of water that are trapped between the leaves. Mealybugs infestations and fungal leaf spots are also a frequent problem.
Pruning: Remove old leaves from plant base and dead flower spikes only. Remove older plant crown when it begins to fade.
Ornamental uses: Useful as a border or groundcover.
Traditional uses: Very young shoots and the fruits are edible, and the leaves deliver fibres usable to make bags etc. Bromelia serra, the chaguar (a common name for several related species of South American plants), is a plant producing textile fibre, along with Bromelia hieronymi, Deinacanthon urbanianum, Pseudananas sagenarius, all herbaceous forest plants with in sword-shaped leaves, evergreen, reminding Yucca. The fibrous leaves are used to make ropes, ponchos, clothing, nets, bags etc. Very young shoots and the fruits are edible,the stem is roasted and eaten, and the fruit is boiled to obtain a thick syrup. Children participate actively in the gathering of wild fruits.
Propagation: Remove and replant offshoots from around the parent plant in late spring or early summer. Sow seed at 27ºC as soon as ripe.
Warning: The edges of the leaves are incredibly armed with sharp teeth and never fail to draw blood so use extreme caution when handling.
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