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Cochliostema

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Cochliostema odoratissimum was first discovered and named in 1847. Later it was re-named Cochliostema jacobianum by a Mr. Linden who introduced the plant at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. Mr. Linden exhibited the plant in full foliage and then sent the plant to
England. The name comes from the Greek word kochlos which means spiral shell and stema which means stamen.

In 1952 Ernest P. Imle gave one of his two plants which he first acquired in 1948 when he was living in
Costa Rica to L. Maurice Mason who was a British plant collector. Mr. Mason took the plant to

Kew. It did flower there and was put on record as being the first one of these plants to flower at

Kew.

“Cochliostema are members of the Commelinaceae Family which also includes Dichorisandra (False Blue Ginger) and Tradescantia (Spiderwort, Oyster Plant, Purple Queen),” according to Eric Schmidt, Botanic Records at Harry P. Leu Gardens. “Both resemble a bromeliad or fleshy Agave. Both are from tropical rain forests and are very tender to cold. They both bear blue-violet flowers.”

According to Hortus Third Cochliostema is also an epiphytic herb however no herbal uses have been found for this plant during my research.

There are two known species of Cochliostema from Tropical America. The first known species is Cochliostema jacobianum which according to the New York Botanical Garden Encyclopedia is the same as Cochliostema odoratissimum. The second known species is Cochliostema velutinum also known as Cochlistema velutina which was discovered in 1960.

When two identical plants are found to have two different names the botanist’s rule of priority comes into play which states that the first name given is the one used.

Cochliostema odoratissimum has fragrant light blue flowers, solid green foliage and an irritating sap. In nature it is found growing directly on trees and occasionally on the ground under the trees.
In cultivation it is considered a greenhouse plant. It is hardy in zones 10 through 12.

Cochliostema odoratissimum can reach four foot tall and five foot wide under ideal conditions even in pots. Cochliostema velutinum is a much shorter plant reaching only two foot high however the stems can reach up to six foot.

Cochliostema requires lots of humidity and frequent through watering until the water runs freely from the bottom of the pot. Feed mature healthy plants weekly with a diluted liquid fertilizer from spring until fall.
Cochliostema grow best in equal parts loam, sand, well rotted manure or leaf mold with some orchid bark or osmunda fiber mixed in. The soil needs to be coarse, loose and moist. The soil should never be allowed to dry out.

Cochliostema do not like their roots to be cramped so keep them in a large pot until they reach their mature size.

They prefer to be grown in bright shade with temperatures between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cochliostema odoratissimum grown in bright shade will develop a purple flush on the otherwise green leaves.

Cochliostema can grow in full sun if carefully introduced to it although it is not its preferred environment in the tropics. When Cochliostema is grown in full sun it will develop a reddish brown pigment along the leaf margins.

“Cochliostema is just a fantastic looking plant,” Enid Offolter, owner of Natural Selections Exotics in
Florida said. “The picture doesn’t do it justice. They bloom year round. I have some with as many as six bloom clusters right now. It is an extremely rare plant from the wet forests of

Ecuador.”

The leaves of Cochliostema odoratissimum can easily be three feet or longer. The flower panicles are one to two and a half feet in length. The individual flowers are usually two and a half inches across. The flowers each have three sepals and petals as well as a hooded staminal column which encloses the spiral twisted anthers.

There are three sterile stamens. The fertile stamens develop as prominent wings. The fruits appear to be capsules. Cochloistema’s need to be hand pollinated to produce seed. Fresh seed should be sown immediately in soil that is 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Plants grown from seed and not allowed to go dormant will bloom their first year.

Cochliostema can also be propagated by division of new offsets in the spring or by rooting one and a half inch cuttings from old stems. In nature when pieces of the plant fall on the ground they root and grow.
When it comes to the best way to grow Cochliostema Offolter says they look the best when they are either displayed in hanging pots or on a pedestal.

“If you notice where the flowers are located, kind of under the leaves and since the flowers hang down, you can enjoy them that much better from a little higher up,” Offolter said. “They normally grow epiphytically on trees. I’m hoping to naturalize a few this spring on my huge ear tree.”

Ernest P. Imle stated in his article written for the National Horticulture Magazine in January 1958 (Volume 37, page 43) that he had grown Cochliostema as a house plant during the winter when he lived in
Maryland. He stated that it does not reach its best development in the reduced light and low humidity that is the usual occurrence in heated homes. However plants have been known to flower in greenhouses and botanical gardens in cooler climates.

Another interesting fact mentioned in Ernest P. Imle’s article is that crosses between Cochliostema and Setrecesia purpurata have been attempted without success. Cochliostema has also been crossed with various Tradescantia’s again without success.

This is one rare plant that every plant collector should own regardless of where you live if you can provide the humidity, the correct temperatures and a place to grow a large plant like Cochliostema.

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