Bromeliads: The Ultimate Collector's Plants

Proceed with bromeliads with caution in case you have an addictive personality. All these (mostly) treetop-dwelling blossom plants would be the designer sneakers of the plant kingdom — and there are almost 10,0000 species and cultivars available, with exotic flowers and foliage in every color possible. Patterns range from pinstripes to blotches, splatters, blushes and polka dots.

Everybody prefers to have at least one bromeliad on a windowsill or in a garden. Get ready, as you’re about to get hooked.

Daniel Nolan for Flora Grubb Gardens

Botanical names: You will find 50 genera in the bromeliad family, with 3,000 species and 6,000 cultivars. The hottest genera are recorded here.

Common names: Bromeliad, vase plant, foolproof plant, queen’s tears, atmosphere plant and more

Where it can grow: Hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on species (USDA zones 8b to 11, depending upon the species; locate your zone)

Moisture requirement: Many bromeliads do not require much water, particularly those who have leathery and spiky leaves. Fill the “vases” of tank-type bromeliads (most are tank types and have watertight leaves) when they dry out. Tillandsias, that can be in the bromeliad family, may need occasional misting in dryer climates.

Light requirement: Varies. Broadly speaking, plants with leathery or spiky leaves manage the sun better. Many can be grown in different light scenarios; shade-grown plants take on greener colors and arching forms, and sun-grown specimens shape tight and vibrant rosettes.

Mature dimension: Varies, depending upon the cultivar. The “hanging mosses” of the South are now clumps of tiny air plants, while the enormous Puya raimondii can reach over 30 feet tall.

Seasonal fascination: Varies; most have attractive foliage year-round

When to plant: Year-round where hardy

Feeding: Feed bromeliads with a diluted orchid fertilizer or slow-release fertilizer. Highly colored and mottled specimens look best when fertilized sparingly.

Monica Kovacic

Bromeliads have more benefits than just good looks. Vase types attach themselves to trees with their origins but absorb moisture and nutrients from the water collected within their “cups” of watertight leaves; they can be grown in containers, either attached to branches or implanted in the floor. Tillandsias are so proficient at treetop life they absorb moisture from the atmosphere, and terrestrial bromeliads are adapted to life in the desert (or swamp or jungle floor) and are outfitted with wicked-looking spines. As you can see, bromeliads are fairly diverse.

Bromeliad shows seem somewhat like art galleries, with every specimen more unique and crazy than the last. Regardless of what your preferred color combination or pattern, there’s a fairly good possibility that there’s a bromeliad with your title on it. There is a handful of species commonly sold as houseplants, but those are only the gateway drug to a trippy journey down the fractal structures of the bromeliad’s overlapping leaves and blooms. It is like every spike of flowers is its own vibrant blown-glass Dale Chihuly setup.

Planting and designing with bromeliads could not be easier. Since most have limited root systems, they’re relatively simple to dig up and relocate as needed, which is particularly helpful for growers that experience freezes in winter.

Where To Grow Bromeliads

Additionally containers. The majority of readers will be delighted to know that most bromeliads are perfectly suited to growing in containers. You can grow them as houseplants year-round or bring them outdoors in the warmer months.

Collectors swear by their preferred potting mixes, but most bromeliads aren’t too picky as long as the soil doesn’t stay too moist and the roots have space to breathe. Amending the soil with orchid bark or perlite may both contain drainage and increase airflow around the roots.

At a sunny garden. Bromeliads that can manage the sun have brighter colors, thicker markings and tighter forms when grown in sunlight. Choose specimens which have been growing in direct sun when possible, and gradually transition shade-grown plants to sunlight so they don’t burn off. The top bromeliads for full sun typically have leathery leaves, for example Neoregelia and some Aechmea. In the tropics, where sun is more intense, semi sunlight beneath a canopy of tall trees is much more preferable to prevent burning.

At a shady garden. Many bromeliads will grow in the shade, but those who are grown for their colors (Neoregelia and some Billbergia, for instance) will create long and arching green leaves rather. The top bromeliads for a shade garden include Vriesea, Guzmania and other bromeliads with glossy green foliage.

Shade-grown bromeliads collect leaf litter in their own cups, and while leaves do provide natural fertilizer, the cups should be cleaned out occasionally to prevent vase rot. Consider attaching bromeliads to tree trunks for a naturalistic appearance.

Popular Types of Bromeliads

You might have seen Silver vase plant (Aechmea fasciata, zones 10 to 11) before as a houseplant, with its powdery blossom leaves and light pink inflorescence, but it is rather dull in contrast to stunners like the neon-blue and pink-flowered ‘Blue Tango’ (zones 9b to 11, along with the massive orange Aechmea blanchetiana (zones 9b to 11) who are frequently utilised in tropical landscapes.

A number of the cold-hardiest bromeliads are Aechmeas also, such as ‘Blue Cone’ (Aechmea cylindrata ‘Blue Cone’, zones 8b to 11, revealed here), spiky Aechmea distichantha (zones 8b to 11) and matchstick plant (Aechmea gamosepala, zones 8b to 11).

Billbergia. The hottest Billbergia is known as queen’s tears (Billbergia nutans, zones 8b to 11) but outdated and intriguing hybrids have been grown throughout the coastal South and tropics for centuries. All are characterized by arching stems of pink bracts and hanging blossoms emerging from thin and tubular rosettes, and the effect is quite elegant.

‘Hoelscheriana’ (Billbergia ‘Hoelscheriana, zones 8b to 11) is an old hybrid with vertical tubular rosettes of rosy mottled leaves, and several of the other hybrids are rather similar. Another popular one is Billbergia pyramidalis (zones 9 to 11), that includes wide and glossy green leaves with a puffball of pink flowers in autumn. It flowers only for about a week or 2 per year, but many different bromeliads bloom only once every few years. Additionally, thanks to their narrow and vertical forms, Billbergias are ideal for smaller spaces or including a vertical component to mixed plantings.

Dyckia. Most of the bromeliads here are epiphytes, but Dyckias are terrestrial — which is, they grow exclusively on the floor. You can sometimes find them marketed with succulents at the garden centre, but they also grow best with a bit more moisture than most other succulents require. Grow Dyckia bromeliads in full sun, where they’ll achieve their best colors and put out copious blooms on tall spikes, ranging from yellow to red.

One vibrant Dyckia is ‘Cherry Coke’ (Dyckia ‘Cherry Coke’, revealed here, zones 8b to 11), that has become popular enough to make its way to the screens at some big-box retailers. ‘Red Planet’ (Dyckia ‘Red Planet’) is this a deep shade of red it approaches black, and ‘Brittle Star’ (Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’, zones 9b to 11) is notable for its narrow black leaves with white spiny margins, giving it the appearance of a creature you might encounter in a tide pool.

Guzmania. There are some very good reasons that Guzmanias are amongst the most popular bromeliads marketed as houseplants: They flourish in shade, have smooth and glossy leaves, and make for long-lasting flower displays. Due to their familiarity, they aren’t always the most exciting bromeliads readily available, but they’re some of the most resilient ones offered for indoors.

Most of the hybrids available at retailers and florists owe their lineage to Guzmania lingulata (zones 10 to 11), but there are a few more worth seeking out. Guzmania conifera (zones 10b to 11) is one such plant, and its intense orange flower spike is one of the brightest in the genus. Guzmania monostachia (zones 10 to 11) is a beautiful plant; it is native to the cypress swamps of South Florida.

Neoregelia. That is really where bromeliads get really interesting. Neoregelias like painted fingernail plant (Neoregelia spectabilis, zones 9 to 11), shown here, have “insignificant” blossoms in comparison to most other bromeliads, but the tight rosettes of Neoregelias come in so many colors and patterns you’ll overlook that the entire plant isn’t a flower in its own right.

Blushing bromeliad (Neoregelia carolinae) is the most common type, with deep green leaves which dared into a fire-engine red in the heart before flowering. Additionally, there are variegated forms of the and others who have white bands down the length of every leaf. Some have blotches and bands also, such as the fiercely spiky and appropriately termed Hannibal Lector bromeliad (Neoregelia ‘Hannibal Lector’, zones 9 to 11) with its blood-red-spattered bands.

Aside from cool names (‘Grumblebum’ and ‘Sexy Pink’ to name a few ) and infinite colors, what makes this genus so fun to collect is that lots of the crops are rather small and will easily fit on a windowsill, like little pieces of sculpture. ‘Wild Tiger’ and ‘Fireball’ are a good beginning for a budding collector.

Tillandsia. Many bromeliads can dwell in the treetops, but Tillandsias do it best, with especially adapted scales called trichomes that absorb water directly from the humid atmosphere.

The most well-known Tillandsia is hanging moss (Tillandsia usneoides, zones 8 to 11), which drapes down from pine trees in the southern United States. You may have grown atmosphere plant (Tillandsia ionatha, zones 9b to 11) on a refrigerator magnet before, but you will discover it does better with more sunlight and humidity. Massive species like cardinal atmosphere plant (Tillandsia fasciculata, zones 9b to 11) and Tillandsia xerographica (zones 10 to 11) make excellent focal points when mounted trees at eye level.

Vriesea. Like Guzmanias, Vriesea bromeliads are ideal for growing indoors or in shady gardens, and some of the more leathery-leaved types will also do well in sun. They are also hardier to freeze than the Guzmanias, and several will sail through a freeze with no harm.

Some Vriesea species have beautifully marked leaves, particularly the green striated bands of Vriesea hieroglyphica (zones 9b to 11) or the pixelated cream and dark burgundy bands of Vriesea fosteriana ‘Rubra’ (zones 9b to 11).

Others have been grown for their flowers rather than their foliage. Vriesea phillipo-coburgii (zones 9 to 11) and Vriecantarea ‘Inferno’ (zones 9 to 11) both have remarkable tall red flower spikes with yellow blooms. The Vriesea sucrei hybrid vehicle (zones 9 to 11) revealed here has a similar inflorescence but on a smaller scale.

Dean Herald-Rolling Stone Landscapes

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