Dyckia (2019)

By Bob Williams (August 2019)

PhotoIn most hobbies, there is a certain degree of risk. Ours is no exception. We deal with sap from euphorbias. We put up with glochids from opuntias. Large spines from almost any family of cactus act like needles. All of these have caused a lot of discomfort to us all. They are things that we choose to accept.

Plants in the genus Dyckia may be some of the worst offenders regarding risk. To top it off, these plants are not considered succulents by definition, in that they do not store water in their leaves or bodies. But they are such good-looking plants that many in the succulent hobby grow them. The question is how care for these plants differs from that for traditional succulents.

Dyckia is a genus of plants in the family Bromeliaceae, subfamily Pitcairnioideae. The genus is named after Prussian botanist, botanical artist and horticulturist Prince of Salm Reifferscheid-Dyck (1773-1861). The only information I could find about why these plants were named for him is that the plants were introduced in Europe during the early 19th century, and this was a way to honor his achievements.

The subfamily Pitcairnioideae contains some of the most primitive Bromeliad species. Most Pitcairnioideae genera are saxicolous (living on or around rocks) or terrestrial (growing in the ground). Dyckias fall into both categories, although most are strictly terrestrial, and all do well when grown as strict terrestrials.

The majority of the approximately 120 different species of Dyckia are native to central Brazil, with some found in Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia. Most are found growing among rocks in warm, sunny areas ranging in altitude from sea level to 6,000 feet.

As stated earlier, Dyckia plants are not true succulents and do not store water. When they go through periods of little or no water, dyckias go dormant and eventually wilt. However, the plants will rebound quickly with little to no damage when watering is resumed. This is in large part due to where they grow in habitat – areas that get large amounts of rain during the rainy season and very little moisture during the dry season.

A question you must be asking is: “If these plants aren’t succulents, why is this guy writing about them?” Well, the photo at the beginning of this article shows a plant that was entered in the HSCSS show. Below is a photo of flowers on another entry. Dyckias in many ways resemble a yucca, and their flowers could be those of a haworthia, aloe or euphorbia.

PhotoThere are a few Dyckia species whose leaves form such a tight rosette that you cannot see through to the top dressing. How do we care for them? According to all of the documentation I read, these are very hardy plants. Potting is similar to potting succulents. The soil should be well-draining. It can contain some organic matter. The root systems of these plants are larger than those to which we are accustomed. When potting, slightly overpot. The pot should be at least the size of the plant or slightly larger.

These plants flower in the spring. The flowers can be red, yellow or orange, on a thin stalk that emerges from the side of the plant. The stalk length can range from about 5 inches for a small species like D. choristaminea to more than 6 feet for D. maritima.

One feature that makes dyckias different from most bromeliads is that they bloom year after year, while most bromeliads bloom once, then die. When the flowering starts, this is the time to start watering. Even though they are drought-tolerant, dyckias like to be watered. The soil should not be soggy, but kept moist. If the soil dries out, the plants will start to go into dormancy. This is something you want to avoid.

During the growing season, dyckias should be fertilized with a half-strength solution instead of the normal quarter-strength solution. During the winter, watering should be cut back, but not eliminated. The soil can be allowed to dry out some.

These plants can be grown in full sun. If they are grown in low-light conditions, the leaves will change color. When bringing these plants indoors, choose a place that gets as much sun as possible. Dyckias can tolerate temperatures over 90 degrees as well as an occasional frost. They cannot tolerate prolonged periods of freezing temperatures. They are not winter-hardy in our area. Dyckias are used as landscape plants in northern Florida, parts of Texas and California.

These plants can be propagated by seed or offsets. Some information I came across says that dyckia seeds are viable for a short period of time, so buying seeds may be iffy. Another drawback for seed propagation is that dyckias hybridize very easily. The plants you get may not be what you were expecting.

The more common way to propagate is by offset. This is where care should be taken. Most Dyckia species have leaves armed with sharp spikes that make working with the plants painful. It is often difficult to separate pups from the mother plant. You should remove the plant from its pot and try to work on it from the bottom. Leather gloves, a sturdy knife and pruning tools all come in handy when it is time to separate and repot large clumps of plants.

When you separate a pup, try to preserve as much of its root system as you can. If it has no roots, treat its base with rooting hormone before potting. Plant the offset in a fairly small pot using a well-draining mix and leave it there until the plant has a chance to establish itself. Most pups are slow to root and start growing. When the plant’s root system fills the pot, move the plant into a larger pot.

There is a ready supply of these plants available online. You have the option of getting the “native” species or take your choice of many hybrids. If you are willing to take on another physical risk, this can be an interesting plant to add to your collection.


Bromeliad Society/Houston
Dyckia Brazil