The term "bromeliad" refers to thousands of species of plants in hundreds of genera in the plant family Bromeliaceae. Even when narrowed to those common species and cultivars grown as houseplants, there is an enormous range of choices.
For a long time, bromeliads were considered advanced houseplants, more fit for a greenhouse than a typical home. This is perhaps due to the extreme showiness of these plants—specimens so beautiful are often assumed to be finicky. However, bromeliads have finally attracted the attention they deserve since they easily adapt to average home conditions. These relatives of the common pineapple are available in an astonishing array of colors and textures. Although many do have very showy flower displays, bromeliads are just as popular as beautiful foliage plants with strappy leaves in red, green, purple, orange, yellow colors and with bands, stripes, spots, and other features.
Bromeliad species can either be terrestrial (growing in soil) or epiphytic (clinging to trees and absorbing nutrients through their leaves), but when grown as houseplants, both types are usually grown in a porous, well-draining potting mixture. 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. Bromeliads are relatively slow-growing plants that take one to three years to mature into flowering plants.
|Botanical Name||Bromeliaceae genera|
|Plant Type||Most species are perennials; family includes both epiphyte ("air plant") and terrestrial species|
|Mature Size||Varies according genera and species|
|Sun Exposure||Bright, indirect light when grown indoors|
|Soil Type||Fast-draining potting soil|
|Soil pH||5.0 to 6.0 (acidic)|
|Bloom Time||Blooms once; timing varies|
|Flower Color||Red, green, purple, orange, yellow|
|Hardiness Zones||10 to 11 (USDA); usually grown as houseplants|
|Native Area||Tropical and subtropical Americas|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic, but some individual may have allergic reactions|
In general, bromeliads need a fairly specific set of conditions to bloom—and these conditions vary from genus to genus, and even from species to species in a single genus. Their bloom cycle is affected by day length, temperature, humidity, water, and feeding. You will need to research specific genera and species to determine how best to grow them.
When cultivated as indoor plants, most bromeliads—both epiphytic and terrestrial species—are usually planted in a mixture of potting soil and sand. Watering is done either by moistening the soil or by filling the center depression ("cup") formed by the rosette of leaves.
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 before attempting this.
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Bromeliads
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 varieties with soft, flexible, spineless leaves usually prefer lower light levels, while those with stiff, hard leaves prefer bright indirect light.
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, provided the other conditions are appropriate.
Bromeliads frown indoors 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. Many bromeliads that are epiphytic can be grown in containers, or you can try to grow them as authentic "air plants" mounted to boards or logs (typically secured 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 constantly 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 very sparingly through the soil weekly during the growing season and reduce watering during the winter rest period. Never let the plant rest in standing water.
Plants you are growing as epiphytes (as air plants without 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. Though some cold-hardy types can survive temperatures down to 20 degrees, they should generally 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 moved outdoors during the summer.
Bromeliads are not heavy feeders. During the growing season, use a liquid fertilizer diluted at 1/8 or 1/4 strength, applied every two to four weeks. If you use a slow-release pellet fertilizer, apply a single pellet once each season when watering the central cup. Avoid feeding mature plants in winter or when the plant begins to flower.
Are Bromeliads Toxic?
Bromeliads are not considered toxic to humans or animals, however some individuals, especially those with latex sensitivities, may experience skin reaction when contacting the sap of these plants.
Although houseplant bromeliads are usually grown in a blended potting mix, many species are epiphytic plants when found in their native range—the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Some common genera of bromeliads used as houseplants include:
- Guzmania: This genus includes most of the most common and readily available species, including G. lingulata, G. zahnii , G. Guzmania sanguinea, and G.monostachia. These plants have long, flat glossy green leaves. The most common varieties have bracts that are bright red (one common name for this plant is scarlet star), but depending on species, there are some that are yellow, orange, purple, or pink. The blooms are very long-lasting, holding up for two to four months.
- Neoregelia: This is the most diverse of all the bromeliad genera. Those species used as houseplants have some of the most colorful bracts, ranging from pink to deep purple. These plants tend for form, short, fairly flat rosettes of leaves; some miniatures are no more than 1 inch across while other plants can be as much as 40 inches wide.
- Vriesea: The species in the Vriesea genus features tropical, feather-like blooms and variegated foliage. Among the popular varieties are V. splendens and the hybrid Vreisea' Fireworks'.
- Ananas comosus 'Champaca': Ananas is the genus that includes the common pineapple, and the cultivar of one species, A. Comosus 'Champaca', is an ornamental pineapple often grown as a houseplant. This bromeliad features spidery leaves and miniature pineapples on top of the flower spike.
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 are most appealing in these plants). 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 in their own containers. Pups should only be potted after they develop a few roots and begin to form the central cup that's characteristic to bromeliads.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Although sometimes susceptible to mealybugs, aphids, and scale, bromeliads are largely free of severe pests and diseases. But they can be prone to some cultural issues:
- Overwatering: If mistakenly watered by over-saturating the potting soil rather than filling the central "cup" formed by the leaves, bromeliads can develop rot. These are plants that like relatively dry conditions.
- Hard water: Water high in mineral content can cause water spots on the base of the plant and in the center cup. It is best to water with demineralized water.
- Improper container: Bromeliads don't have a large root system, so plant them in small, well-draining pots that won't collect a lot of water, which can lead to rot.
Schiappacasse, Flavia, et al. Ethylene Spray Influences Flowering of the Chilean Bromeliad Fascicularia Bicolor. Idesia (Arica), no. ahead, 2016, doi:10.4067/s0718-34292016005000027
Bromeliads. University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences
Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac: Other Plants That Cause a Rash. Kaiser Permanente
Bromeliads. University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension