Discovered by Columbus on his second voyage to the New World, the edible pineapple was Europe’s introduction to the bromeliad family. Natives of North, Central, and South America, this exotic, even bizarre, family of plants has remarkable beautiful foliage, flowers, and long-lasting bracts and berries. Most plants usually consist of a rosette of strap-shaped leaves from the center of which a highly colorful flower stalk emerges.
Bromeliads are found in a variety of growing situations: on tree branches, attached to rocks on bleak mountainsides, in dark corners of jungle floors, on ocean sands, even on cacti in deserts. But the majority of the ornamentals live in the warm rain forests of Brazil.
Mounting or Potting
The “air plants” or epiphytes such as Tillandsias attach themselves to a host plant or object with a few tenacious roots, but do not take any nourishment from the tree. Roots are basically for support and at best furnish only 5% of the plant’s water absorption. Decorative possibilities are unlimited, from bromeliad “trees” to wall plaques, hanging mobiles, and rockscapes. Attach plants to a new host with florist’s clay, white glue, builder’s adhesive, plant tie tape, monofilament fishing line, or stainless steel wire (no heavy corrosives such as copper, iron). Larger specimens can also be potted in orchid bark or even pebbles to hold them erect and to insure roots will not rot.
The terrestrials, or those plants which grow on the ground, have a somewhat more active root system and should be potted in terrestrial orchid mix or any other fast-draining potting medium. Choose a pot size just large enough to insure the plant will not tip over easily. As with most house plants, the larger the pot, the more chance for rotting roots. Do not bury the plant too deeply. The bottom leaves which come in contact with the main stem of the plant should be level or slightly lower than the top of the potting medium.
Bromeliads will respond to regular watering even though they are very tolerant of poor moisture conditions. Plants not potted in soil, such as Tillandsias, absorb 95% of their moisture from the air through specialized scales, which are actually tiny water reservoirs. Basically, the more grayish scale covering the foliage, the more moisture the plant absorbs from the air. Depending on weather and location of the plant, mist with distilled water every 1 to 3 days until water actually drips from the foliage. Morning misting is preferable.
The rosette shaped bromeliads that grow closer to the ground. (Neoregelias, Nidularium, Guzmanias, Vriesias, most of the Aechmeas and Billbergias) should have their cups or tanks filled with water, but water should be changed occasionally to avoid stagnation. Most of these (along with Ananas, the pineapples, even though they have no center cup) are grown in a potting medium and watered before the rootball becomes completely dry. Constantly wet soil will rot roots. The Earth Stars or Cryptanthus are terrestrials without center cups and require more soil moisture. Keep them evenly moist – NOT SOGGY! Some bromeliads (Dyckia, Hechtia, Puya) do have terrific resistance to drought. Often seen in botanical gardens alongside cacti and succulents, they have thicker, heavier leaves. Allow soil to dry between waterings.
Bromeliads will take more abuse than most of our house plants and are one of the most pest resistant plant families available to us. For good foliage color, or bloom, and sturdy leaves and stems give them bright light, even early morning sun or late afternoon sun. Not too close to windows in our hot summer months! They are generally happy in normal house temperatures. Used during our temperate months as patio shade plants, they will be particularly handsome. Especially important to these exotics is good air circulation. Avoid close corners with stale air at all costs. They need fertilizer too. Mist foliage with any good house plant food at half the recommended strength every 3 or 4 weeks during the growing season. Fill cups in the same manner.
Many of the bromeliads turn fiery colors as their blooming period approaches. The vivid flowering stalks often last many months. Once the show is over, the plant will gradually die – living six months to two years. But during and after blooming, the parent plant produces vigorous young “pups.” Some varieties pup freely regardless of blooming period. These offshoots may be kept as a multiple plant, or they may be removed to make separate new plants. The pups are generally mature enough to bloom by their second or third year.
All mature bromeliads are capable of flowering, but we can sometimes help Mother Nature out. In early summer, enclose a bromeliad in a plastic bag with a very ripe apple. Be sure to remove all water from the cup of the plant. Then, leave them together for a week. The apple produces ethylene gas, which, through a complicated chemical process, triggers the bloom. This dose of magic apple gas hopefully produces a blossom within several months. Some bromeliad enthusiasts feel forced blooms do not have the intensity of color typical of natural blossoms.