Dyckias: Not Bad.......Just Misunderstood

The magnificent Dyckia 'Cherry Coke'

In some ways, bromeliads are like cactus: people only remember the spines, and overlook the benefits; even a thorny plant can have the reward of beautiful flowers. Such, I believe, is the case of the often-feared Dyckia group of bromeliads. For many people, looking closely at a well-grown Dyckia is usually cause for a wincing look or perhaps a long pause, followed by a cautious distance from the plant. Yet, in the nursery at Pinecrest Gardens, we bare-hand Dyckias without bloodshed or fear; we've learned how to stay clear of the spiny parts. The teeth of this plant group are no more dangerous than a carpenter's saw, and just as stationary; know where the teeth are, and stay away from them. My college mentor in Gainesville would have given me stern counsel: "you know about the danger, so deal with it ! Don't use it as an excuse to stay away from the plant, just work around it."

Dyckia 'Brittle Star'

As with cactus and succulents, you learn to stay away from the sharp parts, and learn patience when maintaining the plants in the ground or in pots. A few specialized tools will help in removing debris and weeds amongst the teeth, but in reality, the teeth of these plants are more fearsome looking than actually sharp.

On the contrary, I've met some some cacti that I truly believe have the ability to reach out and grab you from several feet away, using some level of diabolical plant intelligence. Dyckias are less menacing, and if you pick up potted plants from underneath, you'll find that the plants aren't as fearsome as they look. Dyckias have all the feel and look of being succulents, and many come from rather hostile native habitats, just like succulents or cacti.  

the beautiful and oh-so-silver
D. marnier-lapostollei
One of the most surprising aspects about this group of plants is that they like more water and larger pots than the conventional dry succulent /cactus culture dogma might call for. I failed with growing Dyckias for years until my great friend Mike McCaffery in Gainesville kindly reminded me that Dyckias hadn't read the books about how succulents should grow; they instead prefer to grow fairly well-watered and well fertilized. In such conditions, Dyckias grow rather fast, and send up beautiful flowers which do a grand job of attracting hummingbirds. 

D. 'Moonglow'
from Yuccado Nursery

D. platypoda flowers,
indicative of the style and color
of the genus

 The flowers are usually very bright colors, often yellow or orange, on 3-7 foot tall spikes, some of which are branched. The plants often set seed easily, and the seed is fairly easy to sprout. The major problem in getting pure strains of seed is out-crossing between species if several species have open flowers at one  time. There are plant sizes for every size of landscape or plant collection, from miniature plants a few inches across to giants as large as a wheelbarrow. Some species are hardy to USDA Zone 7. Once again, we have a plant group with  wide diversity in growing conditions and plant sizes available for you to grow. I wonder how many readers knew of this group, and how many have actually grown some of the species ?

long surgical hemostats useful for
weeding amongst spiny plants

a not-so-secret weapon
to remove weeds around Dyckia plants

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


1 comment:

  1. Dyckias are becoming more popular here in California also, and I grow about a dozen types myself. There's a great collection of them at the Huntington Botanic Garden in San Marino, as well as at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek here in northern California.
    David in Berkeley