Abromeitiella lorentziana - Cactus Club

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Abromeitiella lorentziana

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   Every now and then, I like to revisit some of the species which were once very commonly grown in collections of succulent plants, but have since fallen out of vogue. Abromeitiella lorentziana was once so commonly encountered in nurseries, and regarded as so easy to grow, that it eventually became regarded as one of the ubiquitous succulents, and it soon lost its appeal, in spite of its attractive appearance and ease of culture. It is now somewhat difficult to locate in anything other than mail order nurseries specializing in succulent plants, or the collections of long time growers.

       But this is an attractive species, eventually producing dense cushions of tight rosettes of triangular leaves which end in a needle sharp spine, and with sharp rigid teeth at the leaf margins. The mature foliage has a grey-green coloration, with new foliage emerging a lighter green. Individual rosettes look very similar to a tiny agave plant, and small clusters may bear a superficial resemblance to a Haworthia. But this species is a member of the bromeliaceae, or the bromeliad family, and is native to northwestern Argentina, where plants can eventually grow to massive proportions; reputedly growing to heights of about 30 inches, and spreading to more than 3 feet across. I suspect that such massive specimens must be decades old, as my plant has proven to be a relatively slow growing plant - adding less than an inch of growth to each of its main stems last year. While I'm sure that other growers can report significantly faster growth rates, plants in habitat, growing under conditions of periodic drought, scorching heat, and leaner soils would typically grow more slowly than plants which are pampered in cultivation.

       Abromeitiella lorentziana easily earns its reputation of being an easy and adaptable plant. My plant has tolerated full exposure to scorching sun, heat, and drought lasting several weeks (I'm certain that plants will easily survive months, and possibly years of drought), frequent soaking rains, temperatures ranging from a high (so far) of 95 degrees, to a low which was barely above freezing (it is said to be able to survive temperatures to 25 degrees, but it probably will not survive an extended freeze). In winter, I grow my plant indoors under the illumination of fluorescent lights held just a few inches above its foliage - but most people would be able to maintain this plant next to any sunny window without any problem. To date, my plant has also been resistant to disease, and insect infestation, which is no small feat, considering that some neighboring plants harbored mealy bugs and scale insects.

            For years, only 2 species of Abromeitiella were recognized - Abromeitiella lorentziana and A. brevifolia, (some authorities once recognized  A. chlorantha, which was later regarded as synonymous with A. brevifolia, but more recently, it has been resurrected as A. brevifolia var chlorantha, a variety with especially small leaves and rosettes ).

    Abromeitiella brevifolia is the more diminutive of the two "original" species, with shorter leaves (to about 1¼ inches) forming rosettes to as much as 2½ inches across, although most of the cultivated plants tend to produce shorter foliage and smaller rosettes. I suspect that this is the species which is most frequently seen in succulent collections. It is claimed that this species typically has fewer "teeth" on the margins of its leaves than A. lorentziana, but this trait is variable in both species, and does not appear to be a reliable means to distinguish between the two.

       Abromeitiella lorentziana is a more robust species, with larger leaves, larger rosettes, and (usually) more teeth on the margins of its leaves. Because of its larger size, it may have a somewhat coarser appearance, at least in younger plants, but as plants grow larger, producing ever larger cushions, this trait becomes a bit less noticeable.

       Plants of Abromeitiella lorentziana grow well under the general care for cacti and other succulents, I especially recommend that plants be moved outdoors through the warmer months of the year, and that they be placed in the sunniest site available. Plants seem to be immune to scorching from exposure to intense light, high temperatures, and drought - but then again, when grown outdoors in Ohio exposed to summer rains, "drought" seldom lasts more than about 2 to 3 weeks. Intense light will produce very tight, compact growth, while less intense light may possibly result in somewhat etiolated, less compact growth, and should be avoided. I also recommend that plants be grown in very low and wide pots and planters to better show off the cushion-like mounds. While plants can eventually grow quite large, it is possible to maintain plants at smaller sizes by carefully pruning off unwanted growth. If your "mother" plant eventually outgrows its allotted space, it is possible to either divide it, or start a new plant from cuttings. The cuttings should be saved for a week or so to callus, and will then readily root when inserted in dry or barely moist soil, establishing new plants. Dividing a plant, and rooting cuttings is best done during spring, when the plant is growing, as they are especially quick to root and grow at this time.

          Unlike many other members of the bromeliad family, the Abromeiteilla do not die after flowering, but often flower repeatedly from the same inflorescence, and will eventually grow additional inflorescences from the same stem. Their flowers are narrow, twisted, and tubular: they are produced in threes on the inflorescence. The flowers of most species are a greenish or yellowish green color: these are followed by dull, grayish green berries.

       In recent years, additional species of  Abromeitiella have been described, including A. scapigera, which is distinct in that it is the only member of the genus which produces a scape (a leafless or nearly leafless stem bearing a flower or flower cluster), and the red flowered A. lotteae. A. scapigera has caused some taxonomic problems, as the genus Abromeitiella was originally erected because none of the known species produced scapes, the primary trait which distinguishes these plants from the closely related genus Deuterocohina. The two genera have now been merged together, so now, the plants which were once called Abromeitiella lorentziana, and A. brevifolia are now Deuterocohina lorentziana and D. brevifolia respectively.

       To be fair, Deuterocohina lorentziana (alias Abromeitiella lorentziana) is not for every grower: its rigid, spine tipped leaves make this plant a living pincushion; it is literally a pain to handle, and tasks such as repotting and dividing can be excruciating without proper tools and precautions. The teeth along the leaf margins are also remarkably good at snagging curtains and clothing. I suspect that a majority of plants met their early demises when they snagged the curtains one time too many and were discarded in revenge. For those growers who desire large showy flowers, the odd, smallish green flowers of this species may be a bit of a disappointment. But for those persons who appreciate its attractive, mounded cushions, ease of cultivation, and forgiving nature, there are few other succulents which can compare with this species.

   Plant sources for these species:

   The Glasshouse Works

   Bob Smoley's Gardenworld

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