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Gardening 101: Bromeliads

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Gardening 101: Bromeliads

December 14, 2020

Bromeliad, Bromeliaceae: “Diverse Diva”

Bromeliad is the name for a family of plants with more than 3,000 different species (one surprisingly being the pineapple). Native to tropical climates, in places that aren’t as warm Bromeliads spend their lives as houseplants.

Their original habitat is humid shady forest floors or they are found attached and hanging to trees like botanical monkeys. This means Bromeliads are adapted for warm, wet, shady climates. During a recent visit to the Jardí Botànique in Valencia, Spain, we stumbled upon a small greenhouse devoted to coddling three dozen species of Bromeliads:

Bromeliads are evergreen and have leaves that grow in a rosette shape. Photographs by Josh Quittner.
Above: Bromeliads are evergreen and have leaves that grow in a rosette shape. Photographs by Josh Quittner.

Brightly colored leaves often mistaken for flowers are actually bracts, leaf-like structures where an inflorescence may grow. Slowly a Bromeliad adds new leaves to its center, and then when the center becomes crowded and new leaves have no room to form, the Bromeliad focuses its energy on producing offsets.

Inside the botanic greenhouse in Valencia, filtered sunlight and humid air help Bromeliads thrive. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: Inside the botanic greenhouse in Valencia, filtered sunlight and humid air help Bromeliads thrive. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

A Bromeliad’s bloom can last several months and the colorful bracts even longer. Sadly though, the mother plant eventually dies (and you do not have a black thumb) but hopefully not before producing offspring to continue the family.

Cheat Sheet

Neoregelia ‘Bossa Nova’, a bromeliad with dark green leaves with silvery undersides, creates an understory for the palms. Photograph by Tamara Alvarez, courtesy of Craig Reynolds Landscape Architecture, from Key West Classic: A Vintage Beach House with Modern Curb Appeal.
Above: Neoregelia ‘Bossa Nova’, a bromeliad with dark green leaves with silvery undersides, creates an understory for the palms. Photograph by Tamara Alvarez, courtesy of Craig Reynolds Landscape Architecture, from Key West Classic: A Vintage Beach House with Modern Curb Appeal.
  • Bromeliads look stunning grouped together as one type, or mixed with other varieties under the base of palm trees and bamboo, placed around swimming pools, or decorating a modern shaded entrance.
  • Seek out unique varieties that have exotic leaves in bold colors or striped like a snake. One of the hardiest varieties worth looking for is Fascicularia bicolor with its prickly leaves and otherworldly flowers.
  • Some Bromeliads grow well as “air plants,” which can be nestled into logs, moss, or other organic structures.
Never use a metal container to water a Bromeliad (the plants are sensitive to metal and the results could be disastrous). Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: Never use a metal container to water a Bromeliad (the plants are sensitive to metal and the results could be disastrous). Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

Keep It Alive

  • Knowing the variety will help you integrate Bromeliads into  landscape and properly care for it. If unsure, ask a nursery professional. If planted outside in a frost-free area, avoid exposing your Bromeliad to large amounts of direct sun or leaf burn will occur. Bright light is best. If you worry about freezing temperatures, plant Bromeliads in containers that can be easily moved to sheltered areas when frost hits.
  • Most Bromeliads dislike ordinary soil or potting soil because it does not drain properly and rots the root system. Instead, use specific Bromeliad potting mixes. The same applies for fertilizer; use a type designed for orchids but fertilize sparingly.
  • Remove the flower after it becomes unsightly, using a sharp, sterilized knife or pair of scissors to cut back the spike as far as possible without injuring the plant.
An evergreen Neoregelia &#8
Above: An evergreen Neoregelia ‘Brazil’ collects water at the base of its rosette of leave. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

To dig deeper into this theme, please check out Gardening 101: Air Plants and see the rest of our growing guides for Tropical Plants.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for bromeliad with our Bromeliad: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various perennial plants with our Perennials: A Field Guide.

Interested in other tropical plants for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various tropical plants with our Tropical Plants: A Field Guide.

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