Bromeliads

The family Bromeliaceae are epiphytes originating from the southern United States, South America and West Indies, where they grow on trees, stumps and decaying branches. Their colourful bracts last several months, making them ideal house plants, particularly for a warm conservatory or glasshouse.

Various bromeliads

Various bromeliads

Quick facts

Common name Air plant, blushing bromeliad, pineapple, pink quill, queen’s tears, rainbow star, scarlet star, vase or urn plant, zebra plant
Botanical name Bromeliaceae family
Group Houseplant or greenhouse/conservatory plant
Flowering time Any time during the growing season
Planting time Re-pot in summer if necessary
Height and spread 10-45cm (4-18in) by 10-30cm (4in-1ft)
Aspect Bright light, shaded from direct summer sunlight
Hardiness Tender house plant minimum 10ºC (50ºF)
Difficulty Easy

Cultivation notes

Characteristically, bromeliads are shallow rooted with leaves frequently formed in a cupped rosette. The flowers are usually small and insignificant in contrast to the showy bracts.

Light and Temperature

  • Position plants in bright light, shaded from direct summer sun, such as on west- or south-facing windowsill
  • Summer temperatures around 21ºC (70ºF) induce flowering but once the buds form, cooler temperatures 12ºC (55ºF) will help flowers last longer
  • Plants require minimum temperature of 10ºC (50ºF) in winter

Watering and Feeding

  • Species with a rosette of leaves should be watered by topping up the cupped rosette or ‘well’ with rain water. Empty and refill it every one to two months. Compost should be kept damp in summer and water only when it dries out in winter
  • Non-rosette species such as Aechmea and Tillandsia should be kept moist at all times but never wet and good drainage is essential
  • Maintain humid conditions, particularly in summer, by placing the plant on a large saucer three-quarters filled with gravel or clay pellets and keep the level of water just below the surface of the gravel. Mist the plant in hot weather
  • Nutrients are most readily absorbed through the leaves so mist non rosette plants with high nitrogen foliar feed at monthly intervals from spring to autumn
  • Rosette plants can have half-strength, general-purpose liquid feed that contains a high proportion of nitrogen,  added to the rainwater in the well, during the growing season

Potting and Compost

  • Most epiphytic bromeliads can be grown in a soil-less growing media made up of fine composted bark (or an orchid compost), perlite and coir fibre in equal proportions. Another alternative is to mix half fine composted bark (or an orchid compost) with half multipurpose growing media, including peatfree. Cymbidium orchid compost can also be used. The key is to achieve a very free draining media
  • Plant in 7.5–12.5cm (3-5in) container, larger plants may become top heavy or the rosettes overcrowded and need to be potted into a 17.5cm (7in) container. Use a folded triangle of paper to hold the plant base to avoid the prickly rosettes

Propagation

After flowering, the rosette from which the flower was produced will die. However, most plants produce offsets from the base of the plant before flowering and these will form new plants. Plants purchased in flower seldom have offsets but, if you continue to water old plants, basal shoots usually form. Old plants can be kept for two to three years, producing offsets at intervals.

  • With a single offset, remove the old rosette after flowering and re-pot using fresh compost and a smaller container
  • Where several offsets form, allow one to grow on naturally as above. Use a sharp knife to remove the other offsets from the crown in April or May, when about a third of the size of the mature plant
  • Trim away any part of the old crown and insert singly into small containers using any of the free-draining mixes mentioned (see potting compost)
  • Place in a propagator with bottom heat or cover with a polythene bag and place in a warm, well-lit position out of direct sunlight

Seed

Bromeliads can be raised from seed, although seedlings may take five years or more to flower.

  • Sow seed on the surface of the compost, composed of two parts compost (as above) and one part sharp sand. Mist the surface but don’t cover the seed with compost
  • Maintain a humid atmosphere by placing the container in a propagator with bottom heat of 26ºC (80ºF)
  • Alternatively cover with a plastic bag and place in a warm airing cupboard
  • Fresh seed usually germinates after a few days under suitable conditions
  • Acclimatise seedlings to a less humid atmosphere once three or four leaves have formed
  • Pot plants into small containers using any of the free-draining mixes mentioned (see potting compost)

Cultivar Selection

  • Aechmea chantinii AGM
  • Aechmea fasciata AGM
  • Ananas bracteatus
  • Ananas comosus (pineapple)
  • Ananas comosus var. variegatus
  • Billbergia nutans
  • Billbergia × windii AGM 
  • Cryptanthus acaulis
  • Cryptanthus bivittatus ‘Pink Starlight’ AGM
  • Crypthanthus zonatus AGM
  • Guzmania ligulata AGM 
  • Guzmania monostachya AGM
  • Neoregelia carolinae
  • Neoregelia carolinea f. tricolor AGM
  • Neoregelia Claret Group
  • Tillandsia cyanea AGM 
  • Tillandsia fasciculata
  • Tillandsia ionantha
  • Vriesea hieroglyphica
  • Vriesea saundersii AGM
  • Vriesea splendens AGM

Links

Air plants
RHS Find a Plant

Problems

Generally pest and disease free but may suffer from the following problems;

  • Failure to flower: Plants may take several years to flower and specialist publications sometimes refer to the use of ethylene gas to stimulate flower production. To try and stimulate flowering, place plant in a large propagator or glass case (less satisfactorily, a large polythene bag) with several ripening apples as they release ethylene
  • Overwatering: Tips of the leaves become brown and roots rot so use free-draining compost
  • Sun scorch: Leaves become bleached and scorched if not protected from direct sunlight


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