1169 Billbergia nutansCommon Names: queen’s tears; friendship plant Family: Bromeliaceae (bromeliad or pineapple Family)
Queen’s tears is an epiphytic bromeliad with tough grasslike leaves arranged in a narrow funnel shaped rosette that stands about 20 in (50 cm) high. New rosettes are constantly being formed on short rhizomes around the original, so that the plant’s spread is actually indefinite. Each rosette has 12 to 15 strap shaped grayish green leaves that may be flushed with red or bronze. Leaf margins are usually finely toothed and the tip is pointed. In spring, the rosette gives birth to an arching flower stalk that bears a remarkable inflorescence that has been likened to a bird of paradise or the tears of royalty. The 6 in (15 cm) flower stalk is topped with several 3 in (7 cm) red-pink bracts from which emerge hanging clusters (panicles) of 2 in (5 cm) flowers that have pale green petals with dark blue margins and backward curved sepals that are rose-pink with greenish blue margins. Hard to describe; see the picture!
Several named hybrids have been made with Billbergia nutans and three or four other species in the genus.
Billbergia nutans, queen’s tears, is native to Paraguay, Uruguay, southern Brazil and northern Argentina. It grows on trees and on rocks or the ground in subtropical forests.
CultureQueen’s tears is arguably the easiest bromeliad to care for and among the easiest of all plants to care for. These hardy subtropical perennials often can be found in abandoned gardens. You can grow them in ordinary garden soil, potting soil, on a tree or post, or just placed upright in a pot with no soil at all. An indestructible house plant! Light: Most references say to grow queen’s tears in shade or bright light. In my experience, they thrive in mostly sun and in partial shade. Leaves will show more red in the sunnier sites. The queen may bawl if positioned in full sun all day. Moisture: Bromeliads get their moisture (and nutrients) not from roots, but from rain (and debris) that fall from above into the funnel-like rosettes. Queen’s tears does best in a humid environment with water constantly in its rosettes. Rain water, or at least not hard water, is best. That said, queen’s tears is surprisingly tolerant of drought (especially for a subtropical epiphytic bromeliad) and will survive for months without watering. In winter, indoor bromeliads benefit from occasional misting. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Queen’s tears grows in my Zone 8b yard with no oversight from me. On the back deck, rosettes stuffed in a pot with no soil survive temperatures below 25°F (-3.8°C) every winter. Propagation: Queen’s tears constantly forms new offset rosettes.
Queen’s tears, the easiest of all bromeliads, can be grown indoors in a pot or on a bromeliad "tree", which might be a piece of driftwood with bromeliads attached in several places. Set the tree outside under a real tree in summer. In zones 8 and above, grow queen’s tears outdoors in beds, borders, containers, or epiphytically on a tree or post. As a ground cover, it spreads fairly quickly to cover partly shady corners and areas under large trees.
Masses of queen’s tears along the south side of my house get full sun most of the day, never get water other than the rain, and grow like wildfire. (So do the ones in partial shade.) When I need to make room for something else, I just yank the little queens up and toss them aside where they continue thriving, blooming and dividing, no matter how they landed. (That is, until the mower runs over them.)
Bromeliads grow in a rosette, from the center of which emerges the inflorescence. After blooming, that rosette dies and is replaced by new ones (offsets) developing alongside the old one. What is special about queen’s tears is that there are so many new rosettes constantly being formed, that you never even notice the loss of the last one that bloomed. The alternate common name, friendship plant, probably derives from the fact that this bromeliad, which multiplies so rapidly, is regularly passed along among friends.
There are more than 2000 species of bromeliads, all but one from the New World tropics and subtropics. Don’t get hooked! For more about growing bromeliads, see Floridata’s profile on Brazilian vaseplant (Aechmea distichantha) and bloody bromeliad (Neoregelia cruenta).
Steve Christman 11/21/12