If you want to understand what Bryan Windham says about his bromeliad collection, it helps to have an ear for Latin.
Hechtia, dyckia, neoregelia, tillandsia … the names roll off Windham’s tongue as he introduces the wonderland of exotic tropicals in the rear yard of his home in Kenner’s Chateau Estates Lakefront.
Bromeliads are Windham’s passion, and his exhaustive knowledge of them has earned him the presidency of the River Ridge Bromeliad Society.
Next weekend at Clearview Mall, the group hosts its annual show and sale, where dozens of aficionados will display their prized specimens and offer others for purchase.
For Windham, the bromeliad addiction started with a single plant.
“My wife, Jo Ann, and I went to a craft fair about 15 years ago, and someone was selling bromeliads,” Windham said. “I bought one because it wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen. I grew up in Kenner and grew vegetables with my father, but the bromeliad was a totally new experience.”
That craft fair bromeliad sparked what Windham calls “an epidemic.”
“In the beginning, Bryan would go to shows in Florida and come back with the whole bed of the Expedition XL loaded up,” said Jo Ann Windham. “When he came back home with just three plants from a show last weekend, I asked him what went wrong.”
It isn’t that Bryan Windham has lost interest in members of the Bromeliaceae family, he said. He’s simply become more discerning, so it’s easy for him to pass up plants that may have fascinated him when he was starting out.
“I figure I have 4,000 to 5,000 plants, between the bromeliads, the adeniums (Madagascar palms), pachypodiums (Desert Rose) and plumerias,” he said. “In the heat of the summer, I water them all every day.”
That translates to 333 new plants every year. But Windham isn’t just buying the plants.
“Some bromeliads die after they flower, but they put out pups or offsets — new plants that take the place of the old one,” he said. “I’ll also collect seeds and plant them, and a lot of the plants I have are hybrids I have made by collecting pollen from one plant and dabbing it onto another.”
Windham has the perfect setup for propagation: a greenhouse (where the cold-sensitive plants are stored once the temperatures drop into the 40s), an immaculate potting area with a stainless steel counter and sink, and a distinct order to what goes where.
It’s not all bromeliads. Other exotic plants hang on the north fence, fill a bed of crushed limestone along the back of the house and hug his rear porch. Bromeliads, however, are everywhere.
They surround and fill the greenhouse, hang in pots from the ends of “pig tails” (metal pot hangers that extend horizontally from poles), occupy a bed along the back fence, and bedeck an arbor.
Windham thinks he understands what it is about bromeliads that has consumed him and is always leading him to develop new hybrids.
“It’s the foliage,” Windham said. “There is so much variety in form and color that the plants are always interesting, whether or not they are blooming.”
But his bromeliad obsession is not without its drawbacks, given the plants’ sharp spines and edges.
“No matter how careful you are, they will make you bleed,” he said.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about homes and gardens. Contact her at rstephanie firstname.lastname@example.org.