Bromeliads (brō-ˈmē-lē-ˌad) belong to the Bromeliaceae plant family, which encompasses over 3,000 species, approximately 56 genera, and about 6,000 hybrids and cultivars. Bromeliads, like other species, are divided into groups called genera. Different genera and species prefer varying light, water, and humid conditions contributed by their environments. In cultivation, the most commonly found genera are Aechmea, Billbergia, Cryptanthus, Dyckia, Guzmania, Neoregelia, Nidularium, Portea, Tillandsia, and Vriesea. All are native to the Americas with one existing in Africa. You can find them growing as abundantly north of the equator in the southern parts of the United States and Mexico while also thriving in South America from Ecuador to Chile and Argentina. Bromeliads entered recorded history over 500 years ago when Columbus introduced the pineapple (Ananas comosus) to Spain upon return from his second voyage to the New World in 1493.
In nature, bromeliads can be found in many climates and conditions: at sea level, in rain and cloud forests, deserts and on mountains as high as 13,000ft. Much of the species grow on trees as epiphytes or air plants while others grow on the ground, rocks, and cliff faces. Their roots are primarily for support from the host and are not parasites. Spanish moss and ball moss are bromeliads found across a very wide range, but the Ananas Comosus is the most familiar as it is the only edible fruit produced in the family. On the voyage of Columbus, he found it being cultivated by the Carib Indians in the West Indies. Within 50 years this tropical fruit was being cultivated in India and other Old World countries. The bromeliad species is incredibly versatile and contain some of the most adaptable plant families in the world. Bromeliads are very hardy, tough survivors proving their resilience, adaptability, and strength. Not only do they have a tremendous ability to survive; they offer infinite color combinations with interesting styles and forms. Such variability means that there is some bromeliad ideal for your conditions.
Bromeliads have simple requirements
- A firm support – either potted or mounted
- Reasonable temperature – 35 °F to 100 °F
- Moisture depends on species – low to high humidity; moist but not wet roots
- Light also depends on species – from deep shade to full sun
- Fertilizer requirements vary by species – from none to heavy, weekly feeding
Some good rules to follow are
- Roots need firm support whether the plant is mounted or potted.
- Maintain humidity requirements and good air circulation.
- Provide preferred light conditions unless acclimating.
- Allow for good drainage.
- Avoid extremes of temperature or changes in environment.
No to do
- Over water or allow water to become stagnant.
- Allow to become completely dried out.
- Over fertilize. (Be especially cautious during the winter.)
- Move suddenly from deep shade to full sun.
- Place plants directly in the air flow from heating or cooling areas.
Light requirements vary with each specie, cultivar, or hybrid. All bromeliads require some form of direct, partial or highly shaded light in order to perform optimally. Knowing the environment is important to placing a bromeliad in its desired conditions. With intense light conditions, it is imperative to ensure enough watering occurs to prevent drying out. For deeply shaded areas, it is important to ensure overwatering does not occur. There are a few select varieties that stand full sun with a break of shade. The majority of bromeliads require a break to reduce stress, blanching (extracting/bleaching of color), sunburn spots, and/or holes.
Also the amount of light can affect a bromeliad’s leaf color, leaf shape, and growth rate. Light levels that are too low for the variety will lead to leaves that are long, thin, and greener in color. Light levels that are too high will make leaves grow shorter, thicker, and lighter in color.
Bromeliads absorb water and nutrients mainly through their leaves and through the cups at the base of their leaves. Many bromeliads are from tropical areas and prefer high humidity conditions. However, take care not to overwater since they don’t like wet feet.
Keep the central cup filled with fresh water. Do not allow water to get old or stagnant, otherwise rot can occur. Water should be room temperature and poured directly into the center cup allowing water to run through the central reservoir and into the soil medium. Root system watering is just as important as the cup. Frequency of watering depends highly on the bromeliad variety as well as the temperature and humidity of the environment. Mist plants a couple times a week if humidity is 50-60%, daily if lower.
The three numbers in a fertilizer formula represent the proportion of the three essential macro-nutrients – Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium – in that order of N-P-K. Fertilizers used generally range from 20-10-20 (Peat Lite Special), to 20-10-30 to a balanced formula with equal amounts of the three. The frequency and strength of applications is dependent on many factors such as the type of bromeliad, temperature, and growing conditions. It is advisable to feed bromeliads with dilute, soluble fertilizer at about 1/8 to ½ the strength specified on the label.
Potting for ease of growing, displaying and handling, most bromeliads can be potted. Bromeliads will grow in almost any medium as long as it drains well, is not packed down or tight, provides stability while the rooting system develops, and has a slightly acid to neutral pH. Potting mixes vary according to availability of materials but can also be used in combination. Some examples of this are peat moss, perlite, very coarse builders sand, tree fern fiber, hadite, small sized gravel, and redwood, pine, cypress, or fir bark. The important consideration is that the potting mix must drain rapidly. Orchid bark can also be satisfactory. Bromeliads like many other tropical varieties complement very well with many orchid collections.
Most bromeliads will tolerate a broad range of temperature from 95°F/29°C high to a low of 34°F/1.1°C. The optimum ranges are 70°-90°F/21.1°-32.2°C during the day and 50°-60°F/10°-15°C during the night. Air circulation is most desirable for bromeliads, especially in hot conditions. Cold air does not hold much humidity whereas hotter air can. Relatively, humidity for bromeliads should be between 50 -70%
In bromeliad species, blooming occurs in different stages, seasons, and naturally they will slowly die after blooming.
Bromeliads bloom by either shooting a slender spike inflorescence out of its cup (I.e. Aechmea) or flowers from inside the center cup (I.e. Neoregelia). As the mother slowly dies, offsets/pups will also grow to start over.
Most epiphytic (attached to a tree) and saxicolous (attached to a rock) bromeliads develop hold-fast roots. The plant must be firmly affixed to its support so that the tender root tips can attach to the support.
Almost anything is usable for a mounting surface: cork slabs, stone pieces, wood slabs, lava rock, and driftwood. Salt must be removed from items that have been in sea water. Soaking for two weeks, completely submerged, with frequent water changes, is recommended to remove the deposits.