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Introduction to Dyckias and Hechtias

By Geoff Stein (palmbobAugust 16, 2008

Dyckias and Hechtias are two terrestrial bromeliad species that are excellent potted as well as landscape plants, particularly for warm, arid climates. The following serves as an introduction to some of these plants and suggestions on how to grow them.

Gardening picture 

These are terrestrial bromeliads that are often confused with Agaves thanks to their barbed rosettes and ability to withstand drought so well (most bromeliads are not exactly drought tolerant, but these terrestrials, along with Puyas and Deuterocohnias, are quite well adapted to desert life, and usually planted in the cactus and succulent sections of botanical gardens that can support such species). 


Unknown Dyckia species in my yard

Image Unknown Hechtia (could be H. montana) in private garden

Dyckias are South American plants while Hechtias are primarily from Mexico (some from other Central American countries).  These two genera can be difficult to tell apart as both look like non-succulent Agaves (Hechtias are known as False Agaves) having rosettes of arching stiff leaves with incredibly sharp spines/barbs along the leaf margins.  Both are suckering plants and prefer full sun and somewhat arid climates.  However Hechtias nearly always have white flowers while Dyckia flowers come in a variety of brilliant orange and yellow colors.  Dyckias are NOT monocarpic (they keep on growing year after year) but Hechtias die after flowering.  Dyckias are one of the most cold tolerant of all the bromeliads (tolerating temps down into the low 20sF and even below in some cases) while Hechtias are one of the least cold tolerant of the terrestrial bromeliads, rarely tolerating more than brief frosts down into the mid 20s.

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         Dyckia colonies (two different species) showing blooms (typical orange color) and a yellow flower from another Dyckia

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               Hechtia galeottii flowering and closer up of its whitish flowers;    Hechtia podantha in flower (also whitish)

Unlike the Puyas discussed in a previous article, these bromeliad species are grown primarily for their rosettes (many ornamental cultivar exist) and not their flowers.  Hechtias in particular have fairly non-ornamental flowers, though a few exceptions exist.  Bromeliad flowers, though quite colorful, are still somewhat less than spectacular individually.  But large colonies of blooming Dyckias can be quite an arresting sight.

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    Dyckia 'Brittle Star' (show plant)          Hechtia gayii 'Burgundy'        Both plants have attractive rosettes

Both do well in garden situations though they also excel as potted plants.  These are two of the most difficult and dangerous of all the bromeliad species to prune thanks the unbelievably vicious spines.  But the deadly looking leaves can make amazingly ornamental displays as they form radiating symmetrical patterns. 

Dyckias and Hechtias are not true succulent plants (though some Dyckias do have fairly thick leaves that must have some succulent properties) but both are fairly drought tolerant.  Some Hechtias are far more drought tolerant than many of the common succulents known for their ability to withstand lack of water.  However both appreciate regular watering (particularly the Dyckias) in the warmer months of the year.  I have rotted a few Hechtias from overhead watering in cooler months, but so far have yet to do the same to any Dyckia species.  Neither seem to need much in the way of fertilization, though Hechtias actually seem to do better without added fertilizer, than with some.  Both genera have fairly large root systems so if kept in pots, it is better to put them in a larger pot, than in a small one as one would put most potted cacti or succulents in.  Overpotting is rarely a problem with these plants, and just results in larger plants more quickly.  Cactus soils are OK, but many growers actually recommend soils that are a bit more water retentive (like normal potting soil).

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Hechtia marnier-lapostolleis growing in succulent garden in Huntington Gardens get little water except in winter;  Dyckia I had planted in full sun in an extreme drought situation obviously overstressed it... some Dyckias are not as drought tolerant as others.

The following are some of the more commonly grown Dyckia species, at least from what I have experienced here in Southern California. 

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    my own Dyckia brevifolia                    Dyckia encholoririoides x brevifolia in the Huntington     Dyckia brevifolia 'Golden Glow'

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              Dyckia forsteriana                                              Dyckia neiderlenii                                                    Dyckia platyphylla

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             Dyckia pseudococcinea                                                   Dyckia rariflora                                       Dyckia remotiflora (one of the 'user-friendly species)

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                           One of the most popular species: Dyckia marnier-lapostollei                                                                 Dyckia dawsonii

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                            Dyckia macedoi                                                   Dyckia maritima                                                     Dyckia velascana

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  Dyckia choristaminea, a dwarf species, makes both a great potted plant but a decent garden plant if you have a small, clear spot for it

There are dozens of Dyckia hybrids, though some are so similar I cannot tell them apart.

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                    Dyckia 'Amythest'                                                    Dyckia 'Arizona'                                                             Dyckia 'Merlin'

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                           Dyckia 'Keswick'                                            Dyckia 'Silvermoon'                                                                    Dyckia 'Silver Star'

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   This is a hybrid of Dyckia forsteriana and a fantastic landscape plant... these shots are from some colonies in the Huntington Gardens, California

Though none are really common in cultivation, the following are some of the more commonly displayed and collected Hechtias in cultivation.

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               Hechtia conzattiana                                                Hechtia gayii                                           Hechtia marnier-lapostollei

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                   Hechtia glauca is one of the most popular and ornamental species, but a tough grow for me (I tend to rot it, or freeze it to death)

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              Hechtia montana                                                     Hechtia stenopetala                                 unknown but beautiful Hechtia in Huntington Gardens

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                                                        An unusual species, Hechtia rosea, at least in terms of flower color- bright red



  About Geoff Stein  
Geoff SteinVeterinarian and Exotic Plant Lover... and obsessive, compulsive collector of all oddball tropical and desert plants.

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