Bromeliaceae or bromeliads is a group of flowering plants with about 3600 species indigenous mainly to the subtropics and tropics of both American continents, although one was found in tropical Africa. They are found growing at sea level to altitudes of 14,000 feet, in climates ranging from jungles to deserts, growing on plants, rocks, or ground.
Bromeliads originated in the Cretaceous era but only separated into their present group of subfamilies around 70 million years later. The only species found outside of the Americas is thought to have arrived in Africa.
Bromeliads have adapted to grow in a wide assortment of ecological conditions by developing small hairs/scales (trichomes) that allow the plants to extricate water in the forests and reflect light in the deserts.
Some plants have also adapted by creating a closely bound arrangement using their leaves to help trap water and nutrients as they lack an efficient root system; this modification is known as the “tank” habit. The water habitat created hosts to a varied collection of invertebrates, particularly aquatic insect larvae that help their hosts by amassing nitrogen in the plant.
They also utilize the CAM process of photosynthesis to make sugars. This allows plants in hot or dry conditions to open their stomata in the night rather than the day to lessen water loss. The bromeliad family includes epiphytes (Spanish moss) and terrestrials (pineapple).
Some bromeliads grow a few inches high while others can grow almost 30 feet high, including the flower spike. Indoor bromeliads usually grow to be around 2 to 3 feet high.
Trees or branches that are more open to sunlight are inclined to have more bromeliad residents, while the locations facing west get less light and fewer bromeliads growing there. Furthermore, thicker trees host more bromeliads, perhaps because they are older and have greater complex structures.
The foliage of bromeliads varies from thin to flat and broad, symmetrical to asymmetrical, spiky to soft, usually forming a rosette, extensively designed and colored. Colors of leaves range from maroon, different shades of green, to gold, with some varieties having yellow-red, white, and cream variations.
Other varieties might be spotted with red, purple, or cream, while others might have different colored leaves on the top and bottom, with one species, Tillandsia cyanea, emitting a fragrance similar to clove spice.
Bromeliads have been used by humans for many years, the Aztecs, Incas, Maya and among others utilizing them for fiber, protection, ceremonies, and more. European interest in the species started when the conquistadors went back to Spain with the pineapple, which quickly became popular as an exotic fruit, adapting the pineapple into art and sculptures.
This was soon followed by the introduction of the colorful flowering ornamentals that have been widely cultivated since the 1700s. Bromeliads have a short life cycle ranging from 3 – 5 years.
Bromeliads vary in their lighting requirements, depending on the type as well as their natural habitat, going from one extreme to another extreme. Plants with spineless, flexible leaves don’t require bright light, preferring lower light as they grow in shaded areas. Plants with stiff leaves need indirect bright sunlight.
Too much light can make the leaves and stems turn yellow and direct sunlight causing leaf burn. Insufficient light can make the plant become dark green due to excess chlorophyll created to turn low light into energy for the plant.
If you’re facing issues in finding the correct balance of sunlight, try using grow lights that are easy to adjust.
Bromeliads don’t get their nutrients or water via their roots, so watering the plant is quite different than usual. Look for the center of your plant, or “the tank”. Fill this tank with water, let the water get completely absorbed before topping up again. Care should be taken not to leave the water for too long as the plant will get damaged. Drain it once a week into the pot or the sink.
Try to avoid tap water as it has chlorine and other chemicals that will harm the plant – distilled water is best.
Most bromeliads grow well in high humidity as they grow on trees and rocks instead of soil and get their moisture requirements from the air. If you can’t maintain high humidity levels, you can always create artificial humidity by utilizing a humidity tray or with regular misting. It requires a level of at least 60% for it to thrive.
Bromeliads plants can tolerate average room temperatures, although they prefer it to be on the warmer side like their natural habitats. A temperature range of 70 – 90°F in the day suits them well, along with a temperature range of 50 – 70°F at night. Bromeliads don’t like it if the temperature dips below 50°F.
This is different when compared to other plants because bromeliads don’t absorb either water or nutrients by their roots. Their roots are simply there to support or anchor them to the varied surface they usually grow on. So planting them in pots or finding the correct soil mixture is redundant. Bromeliads can grow happily on trees and rocks, the roots wrapping around these and supporting the plant.
If you’re growing your bromeliad indoors, you might need to place the plant in a pot. You can use a cactus or succulent fast-draining mix since they can be subject to root rot. Always keep the soil dry as the plant has to be watered differently, as mentioned above.
Bromeliads rarely need to be repotted as they are very different from other plants since they have small root systems and they don’t have a short lifespan.
If you do need to re-pot your plant for some reason, use a small pot no larger than six inches. Support the plant with stakes after repotting until the roots can support it.
Propagation of bromeliads is done from “pups” or plantlets. So basically, they propagate themselves. Due to their short lifespan, once they flower, they slowly die. Before this happens, the pups begin growing around the plant’s base. Separate the pups when they reach about 1/3 the height of the mother plant.
Push aside the leaves to reveal where the pup connects to the stem. Then use a sterile blade and cut the pup from the stem, making sure not to cut into the pup. It’s not a problem if the pups are rootless, just let them stand until roots begin to form. Plant it in a pot with fast-draining soil with about a quarter of it under the soil.
You may have to re-pot the pup bromeliad after about six months after which you won’t have to repot it again.
You don’t need to feed your bromeliad often as they are slow growers as well as slow absorbers of nutrients. It only needs fertilizing in the growing season or the warmer months. Never use fertilizer at full strength, it should be at least a quarter of the recommended dose. Always try using organic fertilizer instead of chemical-based fertilizers.
Using tap water will leave a white chalky residue in your plant’s tank. Wipe the tank with a moistened cloth to remove this residue and try using distilled water. You could also add a tablespoon of vinegar to a gallon of distilled water and daub the residue off with a sponge saturated with this mixture. Let the mix sit for a little while then wipe off with a moistened cloth.
Bromeliads don’t attract damaging pests that affect other plants, which makes them rather easy to care for. Nevertheless, there are a few bugs like aphids, mealybugs, and scale that might attack occasionally. Insecticidal soap along with water and isopropyl alcohol can get rid of these pests.
Leaf tips becoming brown or black is due to too much direct light or artificial light. If you’re using sunlight, move the bromeliad to a shaded area and if you’re using grow lights, you can adjust the intensity of the lights.
Brown or purple spots on a plant is a sign of fungal disease caused by over-watering and can be fatal if untreated. Cut off all the infected parts of the plant and water the plant less and ensure it has good air circulation. Consider using a fungicide (making sure it doesn’t have copper sulfate in it) to slow the fungus growth.