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NEW Plants to Try!

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New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Must Have: 'Cherry Cola' Hardy Pineapple

 Dyckia-fosteriana-Cherry-Cola-rosette-640

 

What's more startling? That these shiny leaves, burgundy verging on ebony, can withstand dry cold down to the mid-teens? That their showy white spines are bloodthirsty? Or that this joyfully-vicious plant is a relative of the pineapple? 

 

Dyckia (say "DIKE-ee-uh") is a weird genus of evergreen bromeliads, all native to South America. Foliage color can be almost any shade of silver, green, or burgundy. One of the darker shades, 'Cherry Cola' is aptly named. I must have it.

 

Like most forms of Dyckia, 'Cherry Cola' grows in tight multi-rosette colonies.

 

Dyckia fosteriana Cherry Cola clump-closer-640

 

With maturity, colonies expand to hedgehog-shaped mounds three to five feet in diameter. The beauties below are in the succulent garden at the Huntington Botanical Garden in Pasadena.  

 

Dyckia-fosteriana-Cherry-Cola-Huntington-Gardens-640 

 

Tall spikes of small but brilliantly-colorful flowers usually emerge in Spring. Thank you, Strange Wonderful Things, for the picture below.  

 

Dyckia fosteriana Cherry Cola flowers-640 

 

This exciting plant isn't hardy north of South Carolina, but thrives long-term in containers anywhere. Dyckia fosteriana 'Cherry Cola' is on my must-have list for 2014.

 

Here's how to grow this tough, showy bromeliad:

 

Latin Name

Dyckia fosteriana 'Cherry Cola' (or 'Cherry Coke')

Synonyms:

Dyckia platyphylla 'Cherry Cola' (or 'Cherry Coke')

Dyckia x 'Cherry Cola' (or 'Cherry Coke')

Common Name

Cherry Cola hardy pineapple

Family

Bromeliaceae, the Bromeliad family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen perennial

Hardiness

Zones 8b - 10

Habit

Basal rosettes that readily produce side rosettes—known as pups—to form spreading multi-rosette colonies dense enough to function as groundcover. Although it is typical of bromeliads for a rosette to flower just once and then die, a Dyckia rosette maintains viability indefinitely, producing new leaves and flower spikes for years.

Rate of Growth

Medium; faster in the hot climates it prefers.

Size in five years

When thriving in-ground, individual 'Cherry Cola' rosettes can become two feet wide. Its dense colonies can expand to three or four feet across and two feet high in five years. The flowering stalks can soar to five feet. Smaller in any but the largest containers. 

Texture

Dense and static, but also textural, as if this terrestrial bromeliad were a kind of coral, or a colony-forming sea anemone. True, the flower stalks might wave in the breezes, and the flowers attract the hummingbirds that add their own uniquely jazzy motion to the picture. But the tightly-packed, full-to-the-ground rosettes of a 'Cherry Cola' colony are rigid. Out of bloom, a Dyckia colony looks—and is—as impenetrably armed and hunkered down as any cactus.

Grown for

its form and foliage: Rosettes of stiff foliage that becomes deeper and deeper burgundy when exposed to high heat and strong sun. Conversely, in lower light and cooler temperatures, the burgundy can fade to a muddy green. The backs of the leaves are silvery white, as are the spines along the leaf edges. 

 

its toughness: Dyckia is typically impervious to all but the most intense heat and sun and, while it enjoys regular water during the warm season, it also tolerates drought. More surprising, especially given that this is, after all, a relative of the pineapple, many forms of Dyckia, including 'Cherry Cola', have serious cold tolerance: down to the mid-teens Fahrenheit.

 

its aggressive self-protection: The spiny foliage is relentless in snagging exposed skin. Dyckia is not sampled by browsers, and can be handled by humans only with care and protection. Wear gloves and long sleeves, and don't make any fast moves.

 

its flowers: vertical branching spikes of small pumpkin-orange flowers are favored by hummingbirds and humans alike.

Flowering season

Spring in the hot climates where 'Cherry Cola' thrives. In climates where Spring is slower and cooler, flowering is more likely to be in mid-Summer.

Color Combinations

With its burgundy blades highlighted by white edges, backs, and spines, the foliage of 'Cherry Cola' could harmonize with all colors. During the flowering season, the orange blooms shift this plant firmly into the hot-color camp; have neighbors that celebrate red, orange, and yellow nearby.

Partner Plants

'Cherry Cola' needs low plant partners at its front and sides. Leaf color could suffer in less than full sun, so keep at a distance any higher neighboring plants or structures to the east, west, and south.

 

Given the fierceness and profusion of the spines of 'Cherry Cola', you'll want to minimize any need to work right alongside the colony, either to weed or to extract smaller partner plants that can't stay ahead of the slowly-expanding Dyckia colony by keeping pace with their own outward migration. At the same time, avoid partner plants that spread by slender and lengthy rhizomes, which might also explore back into the Dyckia colony, to send up distracting shoots amid its rosettes.

 

It would be torture, indeed, to remove stems from adjacent plants that are able to infiltrate into a Dyckia colony. Avoid sedums or succulents with slender stems and loose growth, such as Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' or S. lineare, or most forms of Delosperma; rhizomatous grasses such as Stenotaphrum or Zoysia; and spreading shrubs such as Ceratostigma willmottianum 'Palmgold' or Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostrata'.

 

Limiting partner plants to strict clumpers, however, isn't the complete solution, either. Clumpers that are succulent are especially prone to a static look: Look again at the cacti near the Dyckia in the succulent garden picture above. Further, given that the "rosetty" nature of Dyckia is so prominent, partner plants that are also rosettes could look repetitive. Avoid Aloe, Agave, and Yucca.

 

The plants below have styles and habits that contrast well, and keep to themselves even as they also grow Dyckia-adjacent. Among the succulents, choose those that are branching, clumping, and erect, such as Opuntia cacanapa and O. kleiniae; or shrubby and tree-form, such as Euphorbia lactea and E. tirucalli. A welcome contrast of scale and texture would be seasonally-deciduous and drought-tolerant species such as desert rose (Adenium obesum), bird of paradise bush (Caesalpinia gilliesii), ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), and palo verde (Parkinsonia florida). Site a mounding shrub with contrastingly round leaves nearby; those of woolly butterfly bush, Buddleja marrubiifolia, have the additional appeal of being nearly white with fuzz. Clumping ornamental grasses, such as deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), provide delicacy as well as motion.

 

These low groundcovers spread gently. They are likely to be able to keep pace with the outward-expanding Dyckia colony, but not spread so fearlessly that they could pop back up through the Dyckia rosettes that slowly spread over them: Marrubium rotundifolium, Paronychia kapela ssp. serpyllifoliaThymus lanuginosus, and Veronica bombycina.

 

In addition to the neutrally-hued suggestions above, the plants below synergize specifically with the deep burgundy of the foliage of 'Cherry Cola': Opuntia violacea; Sedum 'Dazzleberry', 'Lime Zinger', and 'Maestro; and Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'. While these other plants don't have much to say to white or burgundy (not that they are against either one), they are eager to interact with the orange flowers of 'Cherry Cola': Euphorbia milli, Bougainvillea 'Orange King'.

Where to use it in your garden

In the dry, mild climates where 'Cherry Cola' is hardy, it can be used both as a front-of-the-bed specimen and as a groundcover. Keep in mind that the thick and interlaced growth would make it impossible to groom a colony that has grown wider than you can reach. Only plant en masse if you can rig up a platform to span the mature planting, enabling you to reach down from on high to do maintenance. More realistically, plant multiple colonies of Dyckia far enough apart—five feet at least—that they're unlikely to grow together. Interplant with lower groundcovers that are expendable in the face of the slowly-expanding Dyckia colonies. (See "Plant partners," above.) Or use Dyckia as an aggressive but also impressive front edger. 

 

Wherever it's used, 'Cherry Cola' should be sited so that inadvertent contact is impossible: Its extremely sharp spines easily rip into exposed skin. Avoid siting along pathways or terraces that have heavy foot traffic, or are narrow to begin with. Siting along wide or sparsely-used pathways and terraces, however, would be ideal. The hardscape precludes the need to weed on that side of the Dyckia colony, which will also appreciate the radiated heat from the pavement. The larger-scale detailing of the hardscape will be a strong contrast to the busy leafiness of Dyckia, too. 

 

Even where 'Cherry Cola' is fully hardy in-ground, its easiest and most stylish use is in a pot. As is typical of Dyckia, 'Cherry Cola' thrives in containers, which can be left in place year-round in climates where frosts are infrequent, or brought into shelter for the Winter where temperatures below the mid-twenties Fahrenheit are routine. The container elevates this always-showy colony above the surrounding plantings; 'Cherry Cola' is nothing if not a star, and looks even better when it is given center stage. Plus, the container restricts access into the the colony's own root mass from the surroundings, so precludes intrusion from neighboring plants' otherwise far-reaching rhizomes and stolons. Further, container living exposes the entire Dyckia plant—root mass and all—to the intense heat that (along with sufficient water and nutrient-rich soil) speeds thick growth and development of the deepest possible foliage color.  

Culture

'Cherry Cola' thrives in full sun and heat, both of which stimulate the maximum production of the burgundy leaf pigment. Only in climates with exceptionally hot Summers and strong sun would it be advisable to plant in part shade. Even so, the depth of foliage color might suffer. Before attempting a larger planting in part shade, trial a few plants in different spots in your garden, so you can compare how well 'Cherry Cola' performs with different amounts of direct sun. Purple-foliaged plants that tolerate more shade than does Dyckia include Phormium, of which there are dwarf dark-leaved forms, such as 'Platt's Black' and 'Shiraz', that would also provide a somewhat similiar stiff and leafy texture.

How to handle it: The Basics

Grow in extremely well-drained soil, ideally with fertility and moisture-retentiveness. If growing in a container, mix potting soil with a third sand or fine gravel. In-ground, plant on a slope to ensure speedy runoff of precipitation. If the soil is already lean but nutrient-poor, dig in compost. If the soil is heavy, dig in plenty of sand or gravel, as well as compost.

 

Because rosettes do not die after flowering, Dyckia needs less main- tenance than would be usual with bromeliads that, after their single cycle of flowering, need to have dying "parent" rosettes removed to make room for the sprouting daughter rosettes. Further, the natural habit of Dyckia colonies is for the rosettes to grow extremely close together. The foliage of abutting rosettes overlaps and mingles; because the spines can be hooked, foliage can become interlaced rosette to rosette. Dyckia colonies are more than impenetrable; they are also stable for the long term. On both counts, then, there is no need to lift, divide, and reset rosettes to give additional space that will promote new growth and more flowering. Dyckia colonies are like clumps of peonies: comfortable growing in place on their own recognizance for decades.

 

Clip off spent flower stalks as low into the mound of tight and spiny basal foliage as you can. Should the occasional rosette die, reach into the colony with one hand—while wearing thick gloves and long sleeves!—to expose its base, and clip off the dead rosette with the other.

How to handle it: Another option—or two? 

When growing 'Cherry Cola' in a container, choose one with a larger diameter than you'd select if you were handling a succulent the same size as Dyckia, or one of its many bromeliad relatives that prefer to perch on tree limbs. Dyckia is a terrestrial bromeliad, and its root system will become more extensive than that of either a cactus or an epiphytic bromeliad of comparable size. As long as the soil is as well-draining as recommended (see "Culture," above), and the colony is not overwatered when dormant in the cooler months, Dyckia increases in size more quickly if given the additional root room. You can start out with a full-size container; one twelve or even fourteen inches across would be fine.

 

Place the plant in full sun. For once, in 'Cherry Cola' you really do have a container specimen that appreciates blasting-hot locations on terraces that would fry less tolerant choices. Unless rains are regular, water weekly during hot weather; twice a week if your climate also brings low humidity. You can fertilize once a month, too.

 

Gradually reduce watering as Summer wanes. If your climate doesn't bring more severe cold than brief and rare dips into the twenties or upper teens, you could leave your containered 'Cherry Cola' outside, while moving it under wide eaves, or covering it for the cold snap with evergreen boughs or the "floating row" fabric used in raising vegetables. If you do need to bring 'Cherry Coke' into more sustained and durable shelter, remember that, because the colony tolerates even deep frosts, it might be a help not to bring the container in until after the first few of them. The repeated cold will kill off most insects that might otherwise accompany the container plant to its frost-free Winter location.

 

Provide as bright light as you can when the container is being sheltered; even so, that exposure will be much reduced from when the  plant received full sun and Summer heat. Cut back on watering accordingly; you may find that 'Cherry Cola' can go for weeks—even a month and longer—between waterings. Don't worry if the foliage color "drabs out" during the Winter, too. The color will return, even to old leaves, when the plant receives stronger light and more heat in the Spring.

 

As day length increases in January and February, be cautious about increasing your watering. By mid-March, however, you could consider a wake-up fertilizing as part of a drenching "welcome to Spring" watering. Move the container outdoors after frost danger has passed.

 

Because Dyckia is content to grow in dense colonies—and looks lovely when the expanding mass of rosettes flows out over the lip of the container—there's little need for repotting if your starter pot was also your full-size pot. If repotting is needed, do it just before that "wake up" watering. As always, don't even think of handling Dyckia without wearing gloves and heavy-cloth long sleeves.

 

The rosettes' collective capacity to overflow containers is so attractive that you might consider growing 'Cherry Cola' in a hanging basket. But what about when the colony flowers? The bloom spikes can be four or five feet tall, and would look awkward thrusting out at various angles from the suspended mass of rosettes. If, however, you have a large conservatory, and are willing to suspend high overhead an oversized basket of 'Cherry Cola' (planted with multiple rosettes, many of them planted into the sides of the basket), then go for it. In flower, the huge purple ball of rosettes would be at the center of a stop-action explosion of orange.

Downsides

Ah, those spiny leaves!     

Variants

Even for this self-professed plant geek, the Dyckia genus seems to be a deep silo: This grower lists over ninety species, and nearly one hundred and fifty cultivars. To the casual fan, the similarities often outweigh the differences: rosettes of stiff and, nearly always, awesomely spiny leaves; spikes of small but colorful flowers in shades of yellow to red; love of sun and heat combined, with surprising frequency, with cold tolerance down into the teens Fahrenheit; propensity to expand (to "pup up") from a single rosette into a colony; ability of a given rosette to flower repeatedly without dying; and preference for growing terrestrially (in soil) not epiphytically (perched on a tree limb).

 

The larger and more exciting differences between the many Dyckia species and cultivars are in the mature size of individual rosettes (from just a few inches in diameter to nearly thirty); the length, curve, slenderness, or stubbiness of the leaves; the size and color of the spines; the degree of contrast between spine color and leaf color; and the color of the foliage. In addition to the cultivars with burgundy foliage, there are plenty with green foliage, green-mottled-with-some-other- shade foliage, and gray-to-silver foliage. If, in addition to 'Cherry Cola', I also had a thriving pot of one of the latter—'Precious Metal', say—I think my own lust for Dyckia would become fully satisfied.

 

Part of the appeal of Dyckia cultivars and the vendors who sell them is the gleeful honesty about the plants' capability to snag exposed skin. 'White Fang' sounds hard to resist. For dyckianiacs, "nasty backward-curving shark teeth" is first a rave, and only second a caution. If you find that your interest in Dyckia is broadening, I recommend inclusion of a couple of the cultivars with particularly vicious spines, such as 'Blood Bath', 'Red Ripper', and 'Snaggletooth'; a few more of the silvery-leaved ones, such as 'Nickel Silver' and 'Mercury'; and additional dark-leaved forms such as 'Big Black' and 'Black Moon'. 

Availability

On-line and at retailers. 

Propagation

By division of clumps in Spring or early Summer.

Native habitat

'Cherry Cola' is sometimes listed as a hybrid of Dyckia platyphylla and Dyckia platyphylla 'Carlsbad'; 'Carlsbad' is reported to be a hybrid of D. platyphylla and D. fosteriana. Other sources name 'Cherry Cola' as a cultivar of D. fosteriana. Whatever! All species of Dyckia are native, variously, to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay.
 
 
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