by Joelle Steele
Bromeliads are one of my favorite plants and I have many different kinds, some of which are extinct in the wild. My neighbor got me interested in these fascinating plants some years ago and I have covered my sunroom walls with them ever since. Most of these plants from the "pineapple" family come from Central and South America where they grow as epiphytes on trees and rocks or on the rainforest floors. Among the genera most often used in the interiorscape are: Aechmea ("Living vase" or "Urn plant"); Billbergia ("Queen's tears); Cryptanthus ("Earth stars"); Guzmania ("Torch plants"); Nidularium ("Birdsnest"); Tillandsia ("Silver birds"); and Vriesea ("Painted feathers").
LIGHT AND TEMPERATURE
Bromeliads are hardy and very easy to care for. Once in bloom, they can sustain their flowers and colorful bracts for several weeks in low light, (though they prefer filtered or full sun), and can survive at chilly temperatures, (though they thrive in a warm room). Once the flower is spent, the plant can maintain it's showy foliage for several months.
Bromeliads prefer around 40 to 60 percent humidity though for short term use in color rotation, they can tolerate a dry environment. Some light misting is helpful if they are in a warm room where the moisture will not damage the leaves or flowers.
Though bromeliads appear to be succulents they are not. They need regular watering and should not be watered in their cups unless they are in a very warm location in which the water will evaporate within the space of one day. Water them at soil level and do not overwater as they can rot, particularly if they are planted in soil as opposed to bark.
While growing them in the greenhouse, you can water them in their cups, though the water should not be allowed to sit for more than a day or two at most. This does not usually occur because there is sufficient heat to evaporate any excess. They also need to have their growing medium moistened, but they should not be allowed to stand in water. Feed them monthly with a water soluble complete plant food.
Most interiorscapers never see any one particular bromeliad for longer than about two to three months. By then the flower is spent and it's in the dumpster for the whole lot. This is unfortunate since minimal greenhouse attention can produce a new lot within a year or two. Once a bromeliad has finished its season, it sends out off-shoots or "pups" which can be separated from the mother plant using a sharp, sterile blade. These pups can then be planted in a growing media, usually sphagnum peat though any light, porous material, such as Osmunda, will be satisfactory.
To force flowering, enclose a group of moist, not wet, mature plants within an airtight plastic covering and insert some ripening fruit (apples are easiest) inside with them. Do this in a warm greenhouse only. The ethylene that is emitted by the apples will cause the plants to flower. The process should take anywhere from three to seven days and should be closely monitored so that it isn't overdone.
This article last updated: 04/11/2000.