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  • Writer's pictureJohn Chapin

Bromeliads: Fascinating and Colorful Houseplants

Bromeliads are a group of interesting plants that offer exotic looks in both foliage and

flowers, yet require surprisingly easy care. Everyone is familiar with the pineapple,

which is a bromeliad. So is the ubiquitous Spanish Moss of the South. Spanish Moss

belongs to the fascinating genus of tillandsias, aka “air plants”, which make up about a

third of all bromeliads. Like most bromeliads, tillandsias are epiphytes, a two-bit word

that means a plant that uses other plants for support using aerial roots. (Note: There are

also terrestrial bromeliads with soil-dependent roots.) Epiphytes are not parasitic, but

rather get all the nutrients they need from dust, leaves, and debris that collect around

them; natural compost if you will. Although most tillandsia foliage is nondescript gray or

green, varieties can have fantastic curled, spiky, or fluffy leaves and flamboyantly

colored flowers. Tillandsias make great houseplants, requiring just occasional misting,

and are a good introduction to their larger, more showy cousins.

Anyone who has vacationed in Florida, Hawaii, or other sub-tropical or tropical areas

will have noticed the many varieties of colorful bromeliads that are used extensively in

both residential and commercial landscaping. In colder areas, they make great

houseplants and are becoming increasingly available at plant shops, big box stores, and

even groceries. Favorites are those that have colorful leaves growing tightly together to

form what is called a tank. The cup-shaped tank holds water, so caring for these

epiphytes basically consists of keeping water in the tank. These plants are sold potted,

but remember that the roots do not feed on nutrients in the soil and will rot in soil that

stays too wet, so keep barely moist. You might want to repot your plants in orchid

planting mix after a few years, if the original soil breaks down. They can even be

mounted on a branch or piece of cork for an attractive display, with sphagnum moss

around the roots to keep them moist.

These varieties off bromeliads have tough, very colorful leaves that can be solid,

speckled, or with stripes of red, pink, yellow, purple, cream, and/or green. Brightly

colored bracts, some leaf-like and others with exotic, even bizarre forms from which the

smaller “true” flowers emerge, last for many weeks. After flowering, the mother plant will

die, but fortunately, it will have “pupped” and you’ll end up with new plants.

Bromeliad care is actually quite easy. Place where they will get at least a few hours of

bright light, avoiding midday sunlight. The more colorful the leaves, the more light they

like. It’s important that they are watered with rain water, distilled, or filtered water, never

tap water. For feeding, use quarter-strength African Violet fertilizer, sprayed on the leafs

once a month, year-round. Note: The only terrestrial bromeliad you are likely to come

across for sale is the primitive-looking “Earth Star” of the Cryptanthus genus, which do

need to be potted and watered like other houseplants.

For interesting, beautiful, easy care houseplants, add some bromeliads to your


Happy gardening!

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