Members of the Bromeliaceae family, The bromeliad plant is as diverse as pineapples and Spanish moss. There are over 3,000 species in the Bromeliaceae family. Some are epiphytes, also known as air plants. Instead of growing in soil, epiphytes attach themselves to rocks or other plants and obtain water and minerals from rain and atmosphere.
Many bromeliads are easy to grow, requiring very little attention, and can reward their growers by producing spectacular blooms. In cold-weather areas, bromeliads make distinctive indoor plants. Outdoors, they thrive in areas where temperatures remain above freezing.
Europe was first introduced to bromeliads when Columbus brought pineapples back to Spain in 1493. Within 50 years, pineapples were being grown in Old World countries like India where the climate suited its cultivation. Most bromeliads come from the Caribbean Islands and South America, with the largest number of species coming from Brazil.
A few originate from North America. One bromeliad plant, Pitcairnia feliciana, comes from West Africa. Aside from the pineapple, most bromeliads were slow to gain worldwide popularity. While some were featured in public or private botanical gardens in the 1700s and 1800s, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that bromeliads began to be enjoyed by amateur gardeners.
The leaves of all bromeliads grow in rosettes, a spiral configuration. The rosettes of many bromeliad plant species have leaves that overlap so tightly that a reservoir is formed at the base. These reservoirs can collect water, insects and debris. Another characteristic that all bromeliads share are trichomes on their leaves. Trichomes are scales that help the plants absorb and retain water. Some bromeliads are so covered with trichomes that the leaves have the texture of fuzz. On other bromeliads the trichomes from striking patterns.
Bromeliads typically bloom from a stalk that grows from the center of the rosette. The stalk may produce single or multiple blooms. Some bromeliad plant flowers feature colorful bracts that add to the bloom’s beauty. Once a bromeliad plant blooms, it usually stops producing new leaves. Instead, the plant will produce new plants, offsets that feed of the older plant. Exceptions to this regeneration process include the pineapple, whose offset grows at the top of the fruit.
All air and bromeliad plants use their trichomes to gather moisture and nutrients from the atmosphere. Tillandsia usneoides, commonly called Spanish moss, is the most well-known air plant in the Bromeliaceae family. It grows profusely on the branches of hardwood trees in the American South. French colonists are said to have called the plant “Spanish Beard,” as an insult to Spanish colonists. The Spanish responded by calling the plant “French Hair.”
Most bromeliads sold on the retail market require very little care. They enjoy soil that is neither too wet nor too dry and prefer indirect bright light. They do best in homes that are not overly dry. Aechmea is one of the most popular bromeliads for use as an indoor plant. It has stiff, silver-and-green broad leaves and produces a pink flower on a single stalk.
The flower is surrounded by pink bracts that can last for months. Equally popular, Guzmania bromeliad plant features soft, green grassy leaves and produces a bright red bloom. Vriesia is similar to Guzmania but with paler leaves and a flower that blooms at the top of tightly overlapping bracts.
Learn about Bromeliad Nursery to Purchase Your Favourite Bloom.