Visiting Mr. Hechtia, Andy Siekkinen

In my recent rain in May post I showed you a number of hechtias in my garden. That, in turn, reminded me that I still hadn't written about my visit with Mr. Hechtia, Andy Siekkinen, at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden last December—an oversight I'm remedying herewith.

Andy is currently doing PhD research at Claremont Graduate University's Department of Botany, which is housed at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden. Andy's scientific focus is on the genus Hechtia; using next-generation DNA sequencing, he's examining the relationships between the various Hechtia species in order to reorganize the taxonomy of the genus from the ground up. His recent Master's thesis, Systematics of Hechtia (Hechtioideae): Insights in phylogenetics and plastome evolution in a non-model organism with Next Generation Sequencing, was the first major step in that direction.

While I have a rudimentary understanding of phylogenetics (the study of evolutionary relationships among organisms) and taxonomy (the science of classification), the finer points go right above my head. And that's OK with me. I'm no scientist, and my interest is fairly mundane: I simply want to know how plants are related. I like things to be structured and organized—a real challenge considering nature often prefers chaos and confusion over order. That's why I'm glad that there are bright minds like Andy who dig deep into the specifics and allow me to benefit from their research.

Andy Siekkinen in front of some of his bromeliads

Andy had told me that he's able to use greenhouse space at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden although the bulk of his collection is at his house in San Diego. In light of that, I expected to see a few dozen plants at most. Was I in for a surprise!
There were hundreds upon hundreds of bromeliads: epiphytic and terrestrial, species and hybrids. I'm not sure I'd ever seen so many bromeliads in one place before. Andy was very patient and answered my litany of questions: "What's this one?", "And that one?", "And the red one?", "And the silver one?", etc.

As much as I'd like to think that I was able to remember all the plant IDs from my visit, that's not the case. But being the nice guy that he is, Andy came to my rescue and filled in the blanks after the fact.

Having said that, I promise you'll be able to enjoy the photos below even without knowing a thing about phylogenetics and taxonomy!

A quick refresher: The bromeliad family, Bromeliaceae, is found mainly in the subtropical and tropical regions of the Americas. They have adapted to life in environments as disparate as rainforests and deserts. Some are epiphytic (i.e. growing on other plants, usually trees), others are terrestrial (i.e. growing in the ground). Some have rosettes much like agaves, others have water-holding tanks formed by tightly overlapping leaves, and yet others resemble mosses or grasses. The range of shapes, sizes, colors and textures is enormous.

Hechtias are terrestrial bromeliads native to Mexico and Central America, with at least one (Hechtia texensis) also found in Texas. In terms of overall appearance, they're very similar to dyckias, which are endemic to arid regions of Brazil and central South America. In cultivation, if you treat them like agaves and cacti, you should be good.

Other terrestrial bromeliads include the genera Puya, Deuterocohnia, Ananas (of which the common pineapple is a member), Bromelia, and Orthophytum, to name just a few. The Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies (FCBS) has a great bromeliad photo database covering genera from A (Acanthostachys) to Z (Zizkaea).

The three yellowish green plants in the front are Hechtia pretiosa × lanata

Hohenbergia igatuensis

Hohenbergia igatuensis

Dyckia reitzii seedlings (from two locations), Encholirium sp., Hechtia sp., Billbergia amoena (rear left), ×Hohenmea 'Dennis’ Delight' (silver leaves).

Sincoraea burle-marxii (front center), Hechtia huamelulaensis (front right), Tillandsia guenter-nolleri (center), Hechtia hybrids (all the way on the right), Sincoraea burle-marxii (green, front-ish left), Dyckia 'Jane' (silver, behind tillandsia), Billbergia 'Bruddah Iz' (big plant in the rear)

Dyckia 'Jane' (front), Billbergia 'Bruddah Iz' (rear)

×Sincoregelia 'Burgundy Thrill' (formerly considered ×Neophytum)

Billbergia 'Chewbacca' (left), Neoregelia gigas (right)

Neoregelia 'Cherry Float', Hechtia mapimiana

×Sincoregelia 'Andromeda'

×Sincoregelia 'Andromeda'

Hechtia michoacana

Hechtia jaliscana

Hechtia fosteriana

Hechtia species nova AS496, Colima

Hechtia rubicunda

Hechtia rubicunda

Ursulaea tuitensis

Hechtia lanata

Encholirium sp.

Hechtia lanata × argentea, a hybrid with the same parentage as Jeff Chemnick's at Aloes in Wonderland

Hechtia species nova

Hechtia species nova

Hechtia ghiesbreghtii

Hechtia purhepecha

Hechtia lanata × myriantha (left), Hechtia glomerata AS106 (right), ×Dyckcohnia 'July' (back)

Hechtia huamelulaensis

Hechtia lanata

Back: Hohenbergia catingae (left), Hechtia nuusaviorum (right)
Front: Neoregelia 'Spines' (left), Hohenbergia aff. vestita (right)

With the exception of tillandsias (aka air plants), which have become a staple in nurseries and garden centers, bromeliads are hard to find in regular nurseries. You might see a few terrestrial broms like dyckias in the succulent aisle, and a few epiphytes like aechmeas and guzmanias in the houseplant section. But if you want anything beyond that, you'll need to go the mail order route¹.

This also applies to hechtias. I continue to be baffled by the lack of hechtias in cultivation. People who like dyckias (and there are quite a few of them) should naturally be attracted to hechtias as well. One possible explanation is that hechtias are more difficult to propagate. Unlike many other bromeliads, hechtias are either male or female; you only get seeds if you have both a male and a female plant in flower at the same time (and of course a pollinator, even if it's you transferring pollen with a small brush). The mail order sources listed below are also your best bet for hechtias.

Andy Siekkinen is working on propagating more bromeliads for sale, including rare hechtias. Right now, he has several Ursulaea tuitensis specimens ready to go. (Scroll up a bit to see a photo of Ursulaea tuitensis; it's the last of the orange-red plants.) If you're interested, please contact Andy.


¹Here are three reputable mail order sources for bromeliads that I've personally used and been happy with:

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That is so cool that Mr. Burle Marx has some broms named after him. I nabbed a Ursulaea tuitensis at the recent Huntington sale and a neophytum cross as well. This is an enormous rabbit hole to fall into, Gerhard! Wonderful photos, and thanks to Andy for help with the ID.
luv2garden said…
An incredible collection. We only see a few broms in garden centers here usually only when they are in flower. The colours are beautiful. Would love for more to cross the border but then would have something else to collect. Thanks for the great tour.
Nell said…
What must Andy Siekkinen's home garden be like? This is astounding and a complete revelation to me. The ones with gorgeous saturated color grab me first, especially X Sincoregelia 'Andromeda'; surely that would fly off nursery shelves? The tidy teethy varieties also appeal strongly (H. nuusaviorum, H. huamelulaensis, H. lanata). And the best-of-both-worlds H. species nova AS496, Colima.
Nell said…
This may be the place to promote one of the most fascinating posts I've read in years, Did you know that hummingbirds co-evolved with bromeliads, especially Puyas? I imagine this wouldn't be news to Andy Siekkinen, but it was to me. There's so much more...
Nell said…
I wonder if Burle Marx collected the species named after him. The Gardens of Roberto Burle Marx (Sagapress 1991, one of my greatest library book sale scores) mentioned that he personally collected several aroids that he introduced to horticulture and used in his designs, and he used tons of bromeliads in his work, since they grow outdoors in Brazil.
danger garden said…
What a spiky plant lovers dream come true. Once again I am drawn to Hechtia lanata, oh to be able to plant these beauties in the ground. Thanks for all the sexy photos!
Kris Peterson said…
Thank you for raising my awareness about these plants - and for the mail order links. I see Dyckias and Hechtias far more often in botanic gardens than I've ever seen them in nurseries. Maybe the nurseries fear that their extreme spikiness will put off buyers. Maybe some clever nursery/garden center owner should market them as great barrier plants.
There are lots of books and articles about Burle Marx as a landscape architect but very little that I could find about him as a botanist and plant explorer. I did read somewhere that he has 50+ plant species, cultivars and hybrids named after him.
I've resisted bromeliads for a long time for that very reason: I didn't want the temptation!
I know!!! Unfortunately, virtually none of these plants are available for sale.
That sounds like a great article. Will read it this weekend.
I can only imagine what botanical gardens in Mexico must be like!
You're right, I think it's the barbs/spines that put people off. If you want an impenetrable barrier plant, there's nothing like Bromelia pinguin:
Dave Vitolo said…
Come visit us in Florida Gerhard. Wet summers and dry winters make SW Florida a great place to grow terrestrial bromeliads.

The World Bromeliad Conference 2020 will be held in Sarasota, Florida, USA from Tuesday, June 9, 2020 through Saturday, June 13, 2020 at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. We will celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Bromeliad Society International! Events will include tours of two of the world’s leading Bromeliad nurseries (Michael’s Bromeliads and Tropiflora), a visit to the renowned Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (with free admission for conference registrants), a number of notable speakers, an opening conference reception and welcome address, a banquet with a rare plant sale and auction, a plant sale with numerous sellers, a fantastic judged plant show, and more.
Dave Vitolo said…
ks said…
This must have been so overwhelming..I would have been wandering around with a dropped jaw. Hechtias are never seen in Napa County. Seems like Santa Cruz is the best bet in Norcal.
Hoover Boo said…
Oh, my! Such wonders. The Ursulaea tuitensis has a very Agave-like shape. Beautiful.
Anonymous said…
Oh, I wish you were right but Hechtias are seldom a prominent feature in the gardens I've visited. UNAM in Mexico City has some, all unlabeled. It's also difficult to find them for sale, it is not well known and hence not popular. There's a public garden in downtown Oaxaca with hundreds of them, people think they're agaves.