What is Ochagavia?

Alex Tree

Ochagavia is a genus of plants belonging to the family Bromeliaceae or the family of bromeliads. These types of plants are characterized by their short stems and stiff, spiny leaves. Native to southern and central Chile, they are classified as evergreen soft-wooded perennial shrubs. They are named in honor of Sylvestris Ochagavia, the Chilean minister of education from 1853 to 1854. These shrubs can grow up to 0.98 feet (0.3 m) in height.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

There are four species that make up the genus Ochagavia. The most common is O. carnea, most commonly known in Chile as cardoncillo. Another species is O. litoralis, which has shorter, flatter, and wider leaves than O. carnea and is more known under the names chupon and calilla. The other two species are O. andina and O. elegans.

Ochagavia plants are common in the coastal areas of their native Chile, where many plant colonies can be found growing on the rocks. They are also found in valleys and mountains at low altitudes. Sometime in the 19th century, they were introduced for cultivation in Europe. From that time to the present, these plants have been growing well outdoors, especially in the western parts of Europe that have a mild climate and are near the sea.

The spiny leaves of these plants are gray-green in color with white spots underneath. Blooming in spring and summer, the flowers are found in the center of the plant in tight clumps of pink or red rosettes with bright yellow stamens. Ochagavia plants are sometimes confused with the genus Fascicularia, as they have very similar looking leaves and flower type. They can be distinguished through their sepals. The sepals of the Ochagavia plants lack a keel and are acute, or acuminate, with an apex that is apiculate or macronate, while Fascicularia sepals have an obtuse or rounded and keeled apex.

Home gardeners and plant enthusiasts grow these plants for their ornamental value and as outdoor foliage. While they are commonly grown in rock gardens, Ochagavia plants are also suitable as indoor plants and grown in containers. For these plants to thrive, they should be placed where there is full sun exposure and planted in mildly acidic to alkaline soils. They have low water needs and can survive in times of drought. Ochagavia plants can tolerate light frost in temperatures of about 23 ºF (-5 ºC), which is the typical morning frost of central Chile, but may not survive when exposed to full snow.

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