Delve into the exotic world of bromeliads and see how many popular garden plants are classified under the bromeliad family. Originating from the tropical Americas, bromeliads come in various fascinating florescent colours, leaf characteristics and growing habits bringing an instant touch of the tropics to the coolest and driest climate gardens.
Many are epiphytes (i.e. using other plants as a non-parasitic host), growing happily in a fork of a tree or on a log.
How bromeliads like to grow
Like orchids, bromeliads use the soil they grow in more for anchorage than sustenance. They grow well in pots with a light, open potting mix such as Searles Cymbidium & Bromeliad Specialty Mix. They can also do well when tied into the boughs of trees. This can create extra ‘levels’ of interest in your garden, but make sure it doesn’t mean they don’t miss out on being watered during dry periods.
Bromeliads come from the tropical Americas, growing as forest under storey plants and tree-dwelling epiphytes. Most are shade lovers and need shelter from frost in very cold or mountain areas. Despite their tropical origins, they grow happily in all but the coldest and driest climates.
Watering tips for bromeliads
Most bromeliads form a ‘well’ structure in their centre where water pools and acts as a reservoir which can help sustain them during dry periods. It is often a heavenly poolside retreat for frogs. Whenever this well dries up, it’s time to water them again. Although bromeliads don’t need feeding, this ‘well’ is where fertilisers are applied. Never drop slow-release fertiliser pellets into the reservoir, as they quickly dissolve and overdose your plants. Applying SeaMax Organic Fertiliser Liquid at one-third strength can be the perfect food for your bromeliads. Ensure the central cup is positioned upright to make the most of this feature.
250 species of Aechema are known to gardeners, displaying spike-like bracts extending from a centre cup. Most have broad rosettes and arching low-shaped leaves, often with spiky margins. Aechmeas are relatively easy to grow, enjoy warmer temperatures and their colourful bracts last for many months. The commonly known Aechmea fasciata (pictured above) is a popular choice for enjoying long lasting displays of pretty pink bracts with small purple flowers appearing at the top. It can be used as an indoor plant. Also, look out for Aechmea chantinii, Aechmea fosteriana and Aechmea Del Mar.
Vriesea are easily distinguished by their sword shaped flowering spikes, with Vriesea splendens the showiest and most popular variety for indoor displays. Some Vrieseas display multi-branched flowers. Vrieseas flourish in bright indirect sunlight and, enjoy high humidity, warm temperatures, and can tolerate cool climates. Like other bromeliads, Vrieseas are epiphytic, but can be grown in specifically designed soil mix, such as Searles Cymbidium & Bromeliad Mix.
Guzmanias are a popular bromeliad due to their inflorescent fountain forming bracts, often mistaken for the flower, sitting proud from its centre. Bracts and flowers will last for many months. Its mostly dark green foliage creates the perfect contrasting backdrop to their luminous bracts. Naturally adapted to lower levels of light than other bromeliads, Guzmania is suitable for indoor decor displays and shadier parts of the garden. Do not expose them to direct sunlight. Guzmanias prefer warmer temperatures and humid spots.
Guzmanias are naturally epiphytic, so they can be grown on a host tree or planted in a specifically designed bromeliad soil mix such as Searles Cymbidium & Bromeliad Mix. If anchoring on a tree, secure the roots firmly around the host as the bracts can be top heavy. Water Guzmanias through their centre ‘tank’, the area where the leaves form a cup at the base of the plant to preserve the life of the bract.
Like most other bromeliads, Guzmanias will die after flowering, but new pups form before it dies, awarding you new plants and bracts for the next season. The pups can also be gently removed and transplanted elsewhere.
Making up one of the largest in the bromeliad hybrid is the diverse range of Neoregelia. Noted for their showy and varying foliage colours and markings, their distinctive open vase-shaped wells at their centre are a haven for frogs. Their flowers are insignificant, barely sitting above the well of water, but they are generally grown for their foliage attributes and easy care nature.
Given plenty of bright light, young green pups gradually change foliage colour and display their signature bright colours as they mature.
Modern Neoregelias can exhibit varying markings, from spots, mottling, banding or variegated leaves and ranging in assorted sizes for all garden applications.
These bromeliads require sunlight or bright light to morph into their stereotypical hallmark colours. Plant Neoregelias in Searles Cymbidium and Bromeliad Mix in the garden or pots for an ideal open soil mix and nutrient balance for growing healthy bromeliads. Keep water in their ‘well’ and flush out the well periodically to remove stagnant water and bacteria.
Typically, Billbergia can be identified by their narrow channelling of foliage from the centre. Its flower spike extends from the middle in a pendulous form with often spotted or banded rosette foliage patterns. Billbergia easily clumps well at the base of trees and is easy to grow for all gardeners. Their flower spikes are beautiful but short lived.
Their inflorescence and flowers can grow in varying colours, from red and pink to purple and blue. Billbergias tolerate most Australian climates where strong frosts are not present.
Tillandsias are a first cousin to the mostly grown bromeliads and are true ‘air plants’. There are many forms in cultivation; most produce brightly coloured appealing blooms on delicate flower spikes directly from the centre of each plant. These are extremely easy to grow and can be attached to pieces of wood and hung in position or even in a vertical wall situation combined with orchids and other small bromeliads. Fully adaptable to full sun and light shade, Tillandsias brings strong fascination to a garden scene and is highly popular with the younger generation for its novel appearance. The most well-known species is the old fashioned ‘Old Man’s beard’ (Tillandsia usneoides), with its attractive silver grey fine foliage cascading over low branches or wooden fences. This form is eagerly utilised by many smaller bird species that use it as nesting material and, in turn, unwittingly spread this species to many neighbouring branches of trees and shrubs. Tillandsias capture heavy dew on their fine foliage in nature, so they do not require heavy watering to survive. During the heat of summer, simply splashing water over the plants is more than enough to ensure gradual colonisation can occur.
Bromeliads can be grown from seed, but this is the most time-consuming method of propagating them. Most bromeliads are propagated from ‘pups’. It will die after the mother bromeliad flowers, but subsequent offsets or ‘pups’ will grow and can be cut away from the mother plant and replanted when they are about 15cm high.
‘Pups’ can be planted in pots, in a borough of a tree or mass planted in gardens. Use a specifically designed bromeliad mix containing controlled release fertiliser, flower booster potash and water efficiency properties. Searles Cymbidium & Bromeliad Mix is perfect to use as a garden soil mix or for potted specimens.
Note for indoor Bromeliads
Because most bromeliads enjoy shady conditions, they can make ideal indoor plants, although they will still enjoy a period in outdoor shade occasionally to rejuvenate.
Related articles: Propagating bromeliads