For a long time, bromeliads (Bromeliaceae) were considered advance houseplants, more fit for a greenhouse than a typical home. However, homegrown bromeliads have finally attracted the attention they deserve and can easily adapt to average home conditions. They are available in an astonishing array of colors and textures and mature in about one to three years. Even discounting their showy flower displays, bromeliads are beautiful foliage plants with strappy leaves in red, green, purple, orange, yellow colors and with bands, stripes, spots, and other features.
As a general rule of thumb, bromeliads will thrive in the same conditions as epiphytic orchids. However, they are considerably more tolerant than orchids of fluctuations in temperature, drought, and careless feeding.
|Plant Type||Houseplant; epiphyte and terrestrial species|
|Mature Size||Varies based on species|
|Sun Exposure||Bright, indirect light|
|Soil Type||Fast-draining potting soil|
|Soil pH||5 to 6|
|Bloom Time||Blooms once; timing varies|
|Flower Color||Red, green, purple, orange, yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 11 (grown outdoors)|
|Native Area||Tropical Americas|
How to Grow Bromeliads
Bromeliads are beautiful foliage plants. In general, they need a fairly specific set of conditions to bloom—and these conditions vary from genus to genus. Their bloom cycle is affected by day length, temperature, humidity, water, and feeding.
While it can be difficult to accurately replicate the conditions any particular bromeliad needs to bloom, some research has shown the plants can be forced to bloom by exposure to ethylene gas. So if you want to force your plant to spike, place it in a tightly sealed, clear plastic bag for up to 10 days with a ripe apple. The apple will give off ethylene gas as it decomposes. Make sure any water is drained from the bromeliad's central cup (the center of the plant that catches water) before attempting this.
Different genera of bromeliads are tolerant of different levels of light. Some can withstand full tropical sun, while others will quickly scorch. In general, the plants prefer bright windowsills but not direct sunlight. A south, west, or east window is often perfect. Plants that are yellowish might be receiving too much light, while plants that are dark green or elongated might be receiving too little light. Increasing light exposure can help the plant bloom, if the conditions are appropriate.
Bromeliads thrive in fast-draining potting soil that holds moisture but drains well. A mixture of 2/3 peat-based soil and 1/3 sand is often ideal. You can also use orchid mix, charcoal, or soilless potting mix. Bromeliads that are epiphytic can grow in containers, or they can be grown as "air plants" mounted to boards or logs (typically with ties or glue).
Bromeliads are very tolerant of drought conditions. In a typical house, it's usually not necessary to keep the central cup of the plant filled with water. But this is an option if the light levels and temperature are high. If you do centrally water your bromeliad, make sure to flush the central cup every so often to remove any built-up salts. But in general, it's enough to water these plants through the soil weekly during the growing season and reduce watering during the winter rest period. Never let the plant rest in standing water.
Epiphytic plants grown outside of a soil need more consistent watering; drench them once a day, and give them a good soaking by submerging them in water once per week.
Temperature and Humidity
Bromeliads are also highly tolerant of temperature variations, but plants in hotter conditions need more humidity. Bromeliads prefer temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They should not be exposed to temperatures under 40 degrees. They grow well indoors at humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent. In many climates, bromeliads can be grown outdoors during the summer.
Bromeliads are not heavy feeders. During the growing season, use a liquid fertilizer at 1/8 or 1/4 strength, given every two to four weeks. If you use a slow-release pellet fertilizer and water the central cup, a single pellet dropped into the cup will suffice for a season. Slow-release pellets can also be mixed into the soil compost. Avoid feeding mature plants in winter and when the plant begins to flower.
Bromeliads multiply by sending up offsets, or pups. In a natural growth cycle, a mature plant will send up a flower spike that includes small, sometimes insignificant flowers surrounded by showy bracts. (It's really the bracts that people like in bromeliad flowers.) The flower bracts are often long-lasting—sometimes for months.
After the flower dies, the plant also begins to die over the next few months. However, the parent plant will send out one or several smaller pups at its base. These pups can be carefully cut off with sterile scissors and potted individually. Pups should only be potted after they develop a few roots and begin to form the central cup that's characteristic to bromeliads.
Varieties of Bromeliads
There are several genera and species of bromeliads, including pineapples and Spanish moss. However, the ones most often seen in cultivation are epiphytic plants (plants that grow on the surface of another plant) that grow naturally in the tropical or subtropical regions of the Americas.
- Guzmania: The most common houseplant variety, the Guzmania blooms with clusters of red, orange, yellow, purple, and white flowers.
- Neoregelia: The Neoregelia features bold pink, red, purple, and orange flowers.
- Ananas comosus 'Champaca': The ornamental version of the fruit, this bromeliad features spidery leaves and miniature pineapples on top of the flower spike.
- Vriesea: The Vriesea features tropical, feather-like blooms and variegated foliage.