Billbergia pyramidalis : A flaming torch in Philippine garden

Billbergia pyramidalis

Billbergia pyramidalis  (1827) is a species in the genus Billbergia it is just one of the 40 genera of bromeliads. It is comprised of about sixty species that are primarily native to Brazil. While Billbergia are most commonly found in Brazil, their range extends from central Mexico to northern Argentina. Its unique adaptations make it especially appropriate for outdoor landscape plants in moderate climates.

The species was named Billbergia pyramidalis because the inflorescence ( bracts ) are pyramidal in shape.

Range: It is native to Brazil , Venezuela , French Guiana , Lesser Antilles, Cuba, Leeward Island,  and naturalized in some Carribean islands like Puerto Rico , Dominican Republic , Florida , and in the islands of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

The flowers on an individual plant last less than one month, but nearly all the plants will come into bloom at the same time in the late summer. They are equally distributed as a terrestrial or epiphytic.

Origin of the Name:

The name was derived from  Swedish botanist , zoologist, anatomist  Gustaf Johan Billberg (14 June 1772, Karlshrona 26 November 1844,Stockholm )

Common Names:

Backyard gardeners usually know them as flaming torch , red torch ,summer torch , red flame, queen tears, foolproof plant, billbergia , bubble gum blossom , candy blossom , hurricane bromeliad , among others……..

commonly called flaming torch or summer torch- flowers are the bright violet

Introduction: The species is not native or indigenous to the Philippines. They were  introduced to the Philippines from the United States probably just after the second world war ( mid- 1940’s) .

Because of  the unique reddish orange bracts it make them very attractive for backyard gardens and landscaping materials.Hence it makes them ideal as ornamental house plants.

Billbergia pyramidalis planted as hedge plant

photo credit: Architect Chieo Ongteco

The plant was featured in the book,  Philippine Ornamental Plants by Dr. Mona Lisa Steiner published in  1952, Second Edition in 1960 and again in 1986. It seems that the plant had been in cultivation for at least 70 years or so in the country.

We bought some Billlergia pyramidalis way back in the early 1990’s from Green and Grow Plant center which was located within Manila Seedling Bank Foundation in Quezon City. The store was having its annual sale and the sales person told me that they have a lot these in their farm ( Laguna province) and  landscapers who usually get a lot from them at wholesale price. They also had some clients from big posh subdivision . We were able to haggle the price from Php20.00 per pup to just Php 10.00 since we bought around 10 pups = Php 100.  The store probably closed down in the late 1990’s .

This is quite popular ornamental plant in our place since some neighbors had been growing them in containers,  normally with chopped coconut husk , some loose soil and charcoals. I think this is due to the bright colored reddish orange inflorescence  and relatively easy to grow under Philippine conditions.  Within just few years, We manage to grow over 50 pots of these wonderful species and usually to give them to visiting relatives and friends.  Eventually, We were left with few pots .

While jogging around, i usually seen several pups thrown in vacant lots and left to die, probably the owners got tired of growing them and simply have thrown them away.

This is not happening in our place but i have seen them even in posh subdivision elsewhere also thrown away in vacant lots. Sometimes manage to ask for a few pups and would give some friends which would like to adapt them.  I began to notice that fewer neighbors are cultivating them.

emerging bracts

Another reason for the decline of backyard growers is according to television news , newspapers and even some studies that the main crown which can hold water tends to be the breeding place of mosquitoes which are carriers of dengue strains. Scaring even a lot of housewives and backyard hobbyists.

Some eventually gave up the hobby,  There are countless of growers who eventually stopped growing them . There are also some backyard garden centers which eventually stop selling them, according to them – There is not much demand.

We also call these plants as dual citizens, they can be planted in soil and does well as epiphtyes .


Billergia are primarily epiphytic species. They can grow comfortably attached to trees and shrubs . I usually put a small amount of coconut husk around the roots of Billbergia pyramidalis and mount them on dead kakawate trunks or tie them in living palms like Bunga China or trees. This blooming season usually coincide with finishing their growth around June to late September which is also the rainy season in most parts of the country.

Water and Fertilization

Billbergia do not require much water, but they do like high humidity. The potting medium should feel dry when touched between each watering. You can also add water to the central tank. Use distilled water or rain water to avoid mineral buildup on the leaves. The tanks should also be regularly flushed and rinsed to avoid stagnate water. Stagnate water can result in pests and diseases.

I normally put water soluble  20N-20P-20K in their tanks after watering them heavily , once or twice a month – water soluble fertilizers can be bought in any home and garden outlets .  Dilute them to 1/4 or 1/2 the strength recommended dosage.


I normally divide my Billbergia after it blooms or when pups are several months with small adventitious roots ,  keep them on partial shade area and moving them gradually to  partial sunlight. Since there are no natural pollinators which occur in the Philippines, It seldom sets seeds . Propagation is usually separating the suckers/ pups when they have small roots and are large enough to be individually potted.

Economic Uses

Billbergas are highly ornamental plants ,During its blooming season, potted plants with flowers can be a centerpiece in living room or focal point in one’s garden. The inflorescence or bracts carry several violet flowers which can last between 5 to 7 days in prefect condition .

Sometimes, there are available plants for sale at the Centris Sunday market , garden centers .

Friendly neighbors and friends can give their excess propagation or pups.

Note: I still have a couple of plants tuck away in a corner of our house. All photos are taken by the author .


Miss Universe 2013 is Ms. Venezuela while Ms. Ariella Arida landed third-runner -up

Moscow, Russia

Miss Universe 2013- Venezuela

Miss Venezuela – Ms.  Gabriela Iser

Miss Universe 2012, Ms. Olivia Cuplo crowned Ms. Gabriela Isler at the conclusion of the two-hour telecast, viewed by an estimated 1 billion people from 190 countries.

Isler beat out contestants from 85 other countries at the 62nd annual competition to nab the crown for Venezuela, the country’s seventh Miss Universe title.

Miss Universe 2013

Ms. Gabriela Isler

The 25-year-old, 5-foot, 10-inch beauty works as an anchor for Venezuela’s Venevision television- Venezuela’s biggest television station . Her experience is likely to come in handy during her one-year stint as Miss Universe.

The new Miss Universe was selected by a panel of eight judges including celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, gold medal figure skater Ms. Tara Lipinski and Aerosmith frontman  Steven Tyler , who pulled double duty with a performance during the show.

MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts and “America’s Got Talent” alum and former Spice Girl Melanie Brown  served as co-hosts.

The coronation night began on a sad but heartwarming note when Roberts and his co-host Mel B announced that the 2013 Miss Universe pageant was dedicated to the Philippines and Vietnam because of the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).

Miss Universe top 16

Then the Top 16 was announced:

  • Costa Rica: Fabiana Granados
  • Ukraine: Olga Storozhenko
  • China: Jin Ye
  • Ecuador: Constanza Baez
  • Great Britain: Amy Willerton
  • Indonesia: Whulandary
  • Venezuela: Gabriela Isler
  • Dominican Republic: Yaritza Reyes
  • Puerto Rico: Monic Perez
  • Spain: Patricia Yurena Rodriguez
  • USA: Erin Brady
  • Nicaragua: Nastassja Bolivar
  • Switzerland: Dominique Rinderknecht
  • India: Manasi Moghe
  • Brazil: Jakelyne Oliveira
  • Philippines: Ariella Arida

 The announcement of the final slot  was nerve-wracking  and tension filled memory  for Filipinos around the world , being called the last .  According to the host , She won the MU online voting which worried some; it was like the kiss of death, because it meant that the winner won by popularity and not her own merit.

BUT,  Since Miss Universe is a show and to create suspense and drama – They might have called Miss Philippines , last on stage .

According to several missosologists and Filipinos in Russia, There were about 700 to 750 Filipinos at the Crocus Hall during the pageant finals.


I am not surprise with Miss Philippines getting the ” Fan Vote ”  of the Miss Universe 2013 pageant .  In this  social media age,  where almost 33 million Filipinos in the Philippines are hook on different social media networks like facebook, twitter, instagram, four square etc.

Plus,   there is also a large support group from overseas Filipinos in different countries  . Cheering for their country and their candidates in any way that they can .  You Tube Link:

Philippines is considered a voting BLOCK in the world of pageantry. BUT i must say it is not only Filipinos who voted for Ms. Ariella Arida but also expats and foreigners from around the world. Proving skeptics that Filipinos are among the most beautiful people in the globe.

Miss Universe candidates 1996

Miss Philippines -Aileen ” Leng ” Damiles group picture with Miss Thailand and Miss Indonesia- photo courtesy : Miss Universe 1996

If I can remember , when the selection of the ” Miss Photogenic” was done via internet  at the Miss Universe 1996 pageant was introduced  .  Miss Philippines – Ms. Aileen ” Leng” Damiles consistently top the voting sites.  Same story goes in 1997 .

Miss Universe -Philippines 1997

Miss Abbygale Williamson-Arenas also won Miss Photogenic via fan vote

Denise Quinones

Ms. Denise Quinones – Miss Universe 2001 won Miss Photogenic award via online voting

Internet voting was halted by the organization for a few years then resuming back in 2001 when Puerto Rico stepped  into the limelight with national voting marathons organized to give support to their candidates  . Same story goes in 2002, 2003 then 2004.

Ms. Lia Andrea Ramos

Miss Lia Andrea Ramos won Miss Photogenic at the Miss Universe 2006

Philippines again won ” Miss Photogenic” award in 2005, 2006 and 2007 proving that pageant fans from the Philippines  played a very active role with the selection.  Some pageant aficionados would quick in defending their votes, ” Kesa umuwing luhaan  ang ating kandidata at least may pakonsuelo “.

“Instead of our candidates  would go  home empty handed at there  is some sort of consolation . ”

BUT active fan voting is not  the sole monopoly to the Philippines.

Miss  Universe- Portugal 2011

 Miss Portugal-  Laura Goncalves ( Fan Vote  ) Miss Universe 2011- Top 10 semi-finalist

Latin American and Carribean  countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia , Peru, Ecuador, Brazil , Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic  are also major voters ! Hence in 2011 – When Miss Portugal  was called as semi-finalist on the top- 16 thru internet voting , some pageant gurus  were shocked with the results !  BUT they did not know that it was thru the help of the Brazilians and Latin American countries which campaigned for her inclusion.

Teresa Luy Licaros

Ms. Anna Theresa Luy Licaros photo courtesy : Miss Universe

Emerging Asian voting block includes Thailand . Their candidates are winners of fan base, Best National Costume  in 2008 , Miss Photogenic 2009,  Miss Photogenic and Best National Costume 2010- winner of 4  fan base internet voting.  Vietnam, India, Indonesia , China and now Myanmar were not far behind.

Miss Thailand Fonthip Watcharatrakul poses in her national costume at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas

Fonthip Watcharatrakul

2010 Miss Universe Pageant

Miss Thailand 2010 – winner of ” Best in National Costume”  and ” Miss Photogenic” via online voting

Some netizens  and beauty pageant experts sometimes nickname the fan base vote as ” Miss Votedgenic ” or ” Puertogenic “,” Pinaygenic” and ” Thailandgenic”  the last three are names of the country of origin ( Puerto Rico ), ( Pinay is a colloquial term for Filipino women),   ( Thailand) with huge internet voting fan base.

What makes the Filipinos at par with the Latin American countries? Filipinos love pageants, some of the oldest known national pageant dates back in 1908 ( Manila Carnival Queen ) See the link:

Almost any type of pageant just like its Latin counterparts , There are pageants in almost every barangays, barrios, sitos, schools, universities etc…  A fiesta is never complete without pageant.

What makes Filipinos different with the Latin American countries? Unlike some Latin American countries which have some sort of beauty schools and radical views on beauty like cosmetic surgeries etc…. Majority of the Filipinos still regard pageants as past time and still prefers natural beauties.  This is a long debate.

Shocking Surprises:

Early favorites like Miss Poland, Miss Israel, Miss Mexico , Miss Hungary , Miss Curacao and hometown bet Miss Russia failed to make it.  Some say Mr. Donald Trump had an upper hand with the selection of ” Trump’s Bet”, ” Trump’s Pick”  or ” Trump’s Angels”  to enter in the finals.  Some say there were 6 of them, while some place them at 8. – As they always say, not all front -runners will make  it to the finals!


Ms. Ariella Arida casual wear during the introduction -photo courtesy of : Miss Universe


Ms. Ariella Arida – swimsuit during the finals


Ms. Ariella Arida during the evening gown finals

Top 5 finalist

Miss Universe top-5

Miss Universe top 5:

Question and Answer:

 Ecuador came first and was asked what she thought the world would be without the Internet. Her response about computers having [their] advantages and disadvantages and not having enough time for family [seemed] somewhat related, but she did not directly answer the question.

Brazil followed and was asked a question about women in countries who are not allowed to vote, hold elected office and even drive. Jackelyne noted that even if women have achieved independence [today], there are still problems. She referred to her country where the president is currently a woman. Perhaps Brazil could have answered this better?

Spain was next and her question was political. What more could be done for more women to be elected to public office? With the help of a translator, Patricia answered in Spanish saying that women “must possess good qualities in order to do a good job — discipline, knowing how to adapt…so she can fulfill her job.” Spain seemed almost assured of the crown with this answer.

The Philippines was asked about what could be done about the lack of jobs for young people who are starting their careers around world. Ariella’s answer:

“For the people who have lack of jobs, I do believe that we people should invest in education. And that is my primary advocacy, because if every one of us is educated and we‘re well aware of what we are doing, we could land into jobs and could land good careers in the future. So, education is a primary source and it is a ticket for a better future,” she replied.

Arida was the only contestant from the final five who replied in English. The rest of the Spanish-speaking contestants needed their respective translators to convey their answers.

Venezuela was the last to answer: “What is your biggest fear and how do you plan to overcome it?” She said in her native language, “We must overcome all our fears and this in turn would make us stronger. As soon as we overcome our fears, we can face any challenge.”

Although she said it well, Gabriela took a different approach to the question by answering obliquely.

Note: I think it is not the final question and answer portion that made Miss Venezuela won the pageant, It was the overall performance and the judges impression that made her win.  Just like last year when Miss Venezuela was over-rated at 2nd runner-up and even Miss USA which eventually got the crown.

%d bloggers like this: