Bring on Bromeliads
Talk about personality! These tropical plants bring an exotic flair to your home décor and plant collection with their flamboyant colors, strappy leaves, rosette shapes and crazy spikes.
The bromeliad family, scientifically known as Bromeliaceae, includes more than 3,400 species throughout the Americas. They’re found from Virginia and Arizona in the United States then south to Chile and Argentina, and at elevations from sea level to over 3,000 meters. In the United States, Florida boasts the most native species with 16, and we love knowing enthusiasts are working hard to preserve them by collecting and propagating their seeds.
Bromeliads grow in the soil (terrestrial), on rocks (saxicolous) and in trees (epiphytic). They develop only minimal roots, and the epiphytic ones use them as anchors to trees. Most bromeliads’ leaves (or bracts) are arranged like a spiral rosette creating a water tank to collect water and debris. The leaves are also covered with specialized scales to help absorb water and nutrients. Many insects use these mini reservoirs as their home. And of course, our GPR team loves eating fresh pineapple -- the most famous bromeliad. Did you know 28 million tons of the fruit are grown annually worldwide?
Bromeliads are relatively easy to grow indoors. The plants need medium to bright light. Since they have small roots, they do better in shallow pots with a quick-draining orchid mix of bark, sphagnum moss and other organic amendments. To water, pour water in the center of your bromeliad, keeping it filled a quarter to half full. Every couple of weeks, empty the water and refill to prevent salt and mineral buildup. You will only need to water the soil once every month or so when it is dry. Feed the plants with a half strength fertilizer every month in the growing season. They thrive in humid environments so try growing in a bathroom or kitchen. Alternatively, treat to a regular misting or try setting your potted bromeliad on a tray of gravel and water to amp up humidity.
While bromeliads are showy plants, the main blooming portion only lives a year or two. They typically start to die back after flowering. Many discard bromeliads after blooming, but if left to grow they develop into a clump or small offsets and grow. This clump can be divided or left alone.
Bromeliads are fun to grow solo, in a vertical garden wall or in container arrangements. Some even use them in holiday mantle displays. Here are a few favorites to try.
- Guzmania: You’ve probably admired these colorful bromeliads in plantscapes at hotel lobbies or shopping malls. This popular group features long, flat glossy leaves in a striking array of colors. The most common ones, called “scarlet stars,” are bright red, while other varieties come in yellow, orange, purple and pink. Their colorful star-shaped bracts are long-lasting, holding up for two to four months. They prefer an east- or west-facing window; just avoid direct sunlight.
- Neoregelia: This diverse group features some striking leaf patterns and variegated forms that make attractive houseplants. They range from two-tone ‘Guacamole’ in red and green to ‘Malbec’ in deep red and 'Ardie’ with green and white stripes. We also love mini ‘Lilliputiana’ -- perfect for terrariums. Neoregelias color up best when placed in bright indirect light.
- Vriesea: This group features tropical, feather-like blooms and variegated foliage. Check out flaming sword (V. splendens) and the Vreisea' Fireworks,' a hybrid with a two-tone flower spike in red and yellow. Many smaller Vriesea varieties make perfect desktop plants and tolerate lower light conditions.
- Ananas comosus 'Champaca': This group includes the common pineapple, and ornamental pineapple, A. Comosus 'Champaca,’ that’s fun to grow as a houseplant. It features spidery leaves and miniature pineapples on top of the flower spike. Also, check out this video on how to grow a pineapple plant from a store-bought pineapple.
- Cryptanthus: These terrestrial species are known as earth stars for their rosette displays of the leaves. They are the toughest bromeliads and can survive long periods without water. ‘Elaine’ is one of our favorites with its pink, white and green striped leaves.
- Tillandsia: Some are surprised to learn tillandsia (or air plants) are part of the bromeliad family. We have a great collection of them at GPR. Catch our video and blog for more info.
Learn MoreTo learn more, visit Bromeliads.info or see them first-hand at a botanical garden near you. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, FL has one of the largest bromeliad collections.