Delve into the exotic world of bromeliads and see how many of our popular garden plants are classified under the bromeliad family. Originating from the tropical Americas, bromeliads come in array of 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 for sustenance. They grow very 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 where they grow 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 of 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 necessarily need feeding, this ‘well’ is the place to apply fertilisers if you wish. Never drop slow release fertiliser pellets into the reservoir as they will quickly dissolve and overdose your plants. An application of SeaMax Fish & Kelp at one-third strength can be the perfect food for your bromeliads. To make the most of this feature, make sure that the central cup is positioned upright.
There are 250 species of aechema 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 and 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 tolerant cool climates as well. 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 foliage is mostly dark green creating the perfect contrasting backdrop to their luminous bracts. Naturally adapted to lower levels of light than other bromeliads, Guzmania are 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 plant 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 different markings, from spots, mottling, banding or variegated leaves and ranging assorted sizes for all types of garden applications.
These bromeliads do require some sunlight or bright light to morph into their stereotypical hallmark colours. Plant neoregelias in Searles Cymbidium and Bromeliad Mix in the garden or in pots for a 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 clump well at the base of trees and are 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 pinks to purples and blues. Billbergias tolerate most Australian climates where strong frosts are not present.
Tillandsias are a first cousin to the bromeliads that are mostly grown and are true ‘air plants’. There are many forms in cultivation and 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 simply 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 both full sun and light shade, Tillandsias truly bring strong fascination to a garden scene and are highly popular with the younger generation for their novel appearance. The most well-known of all 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. In nature, tillandsias capture heavy dew on their fine foliage so do not require heavy watering to survive. During the heat of summer, simply splashing water over the plants is more than enough to ensure a 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’. After the mother bromeliad flowers, it will die, 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 from time to time in order to rejuvenate.
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