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History

The term ‘bromeliad’ is a simplification of the scientific name Bromeliaceae (bro-meel-ee-ay-see-ee) which covers any member of the pineapple family. The genus Bromelia and indeed the whole group is named after the Swedish medical doctor and botanist Olof Bromelius (1639 - 1705)

We don’t know who first used the term, but it was probably a botanist or grower who tired of the cumbersome phrase species of ‘Bromeliaceae’. How long ago the ancestral archetype of bromeliads first evolved can’t be determined, but the oldest bromeliad-like fossil found in South American rock sediments has been dated as 30 million years old and has been named Karatophyllum bromelioides. The conclusion from this is that Bromeliaceae is a relative newcomer in the plant kingdom.

Bromeliads entered recorded history about 500 years ago when Christopher Columbus introduced the pineapple (Ananas comosus) to Spain upon returning from his 2nd voyage to the New World in 1493. He found it cultivated by the Carib Indians on the island of Guadaloupe in the West Indies.

The cultivation of pineapples in Europe began in the 1600s when heated glasshouses were used. It took time for additional bromeliads to enter cultivation. In 1753, Carl Linnaeus listed 14 bromeliads in his Species Planetarium which were listed under Bromelia (plants with spines) and Tillandsia (spineless). Other botanists subdivided these two genera and introduced Pitcairnia and Ananas. The French botanist August Jaume de Saint Hilaire established the family Bromeliaceae in the late 1700s.

During this time and the early 1800s, there was a marked increase in interest in finding and cultivating these plants. Some of the first introduced after the pineapple were Bromelia pinguin, Guzmania lingulata (1776), Bromelia humilis, Bromelia chrysantha and Bromelia karatas.

These were followed in the early 1800s by Billbergia pyramidalis, Billbergia zebrina, Aechmea fasciata (1828), Aechmea pectinata, Cryptanthus bromelioides and Vriesea splendens (1840).

In the 1800s, much of the interest was centred in France and Belgium, and growers in these countries plus the Netherlands started hybridising plants for the wholesale trade.

This interest continued until the outbreak of World War 1, which put a stop to these activities. Many of the large European collections were lost during this period. There was little revival of interest between the two World Wars.

After WW2, except for Professor Raugh at the University of Heidelberg and Walter Richter in East Germany, the main interest was in the USA. However Julian Marnier-Lapostolle (1902-1976) had the largest private collection in France.

The person responsible for collecting & introducing more bromeliads than anyone else is Mulford Foster (1888-1978) of Orlando, Florida, USA. His enthusiasm and introduction of new plants was primarily responsible for the formation of The Bromeliad Society as an international organisation.
 

At the present time we are seeing an upsurge in interest by botanists mainly directed towards identification and conservation of species before destruction of the habitat of many of these plants occurs.

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