Two small and intriguing plant families that deserve a special mention as companion plants for palms are Bromeliads and Orchids. Both families include epiphytes (plants that grow harmlessly upon another plant) and terrestrial species.
Whilst many people think of bromeliads as brightly coloured, small plants such as the Neoregelia genus there are many others including:
The giant Puya raimondii from the Andes which grows to around 3m tall.
The delicate Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides.
And the common pineapple, Ananas comosus.
For our purposes however we consider here those hot, tropical-coloured bromeliads which lend an air of the tropics to warm, frost-free gardens in the north of New Zealand.
The three genera that include many of the best looking bromeliads are Guzmania, Neoregelia and Vriesea. All include species with bright, colourful flowers. Guzmania tend to have green, strap-like leaves with large flowers held on a spike ranging from red to orange, yellow and even purple. Neoregelia are often pink tinged and are grown more for their dramatic foliage. Vriesea included both brilliantly flowering species as well as the huge ‘King of the Bromeliads’, Vriesea hieroglyphica.
Orchids are often thought of as being exotic and mysterious plants from the steamy tropics, impossible to grow in anything but a heated greenhouse. In truth, whilst there are many tropical species that require just these conditions, a number will grow in cool and even chilly locations in New Zealand gardens.
The most popular species of orchid for New Zealand gardens is the Cymbidium orchid. Cymbidiums grow to around 60cm tall with thick, strap-like leaves and flowering spikes growing to 90cm high holding between 8 and 12 large flowers (5-10cm across). The flowers can last for two months or more and come in a range of colours; white, yellow, cream, pink, green, terracotta and orange to name just a few. Cymbidiums are quite hardy tolerating light frosts (in fact they require cool nights in order to induce flowering). Grow them in a fast-draining mix of bark, peat and pumice and do not allow them to stand in water. Protect from bright sun, wind and heavy rain and they’ll thrive in all but the chilliest of locations.
See Garden Designs using Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants for more suggestions about combing palms with bromeliads and orchids.