The native home of the Bromeliads is the American jungle, where they dwell among the Orchids in the trees or on the forest floor. Some Bromeliads are grown for the beauty of their foliage and there are others which are admired for the beauty of their flowers. a few, such as popular Aechmea fasciata and Vriesea splendens, belong in both camps. These dual-purpose plants are cultivated for both their attractive foliage and bold flower-heads.
The usual pattern is a rosette of leathery, strap-like foliage and a flower-head which arises on a stalk from the cup-like centre of this rosette. It may take several years to reach the flowering stage, but the display may last for several months. Once the flower-head fades the rosette of leaves starts to die and is replaced by the offsets at the base.
In most cases the colorful display of the flower-head is due to the presence of showy bracts – the true flowers are small and short-lived.
Interior decorators look upon Bromeliads as almost essential for their modern decor schemes, but beginners often feel that these spectacular plants must be too difficult for them to grow. It is true that it takes patience, skill and warmth to induce a large-leaved specimen to flower, but foliage types and plants in flower are surprisingly easy to care for.
One of the oddities is the method of watering – water is poured into the central cup or ‘vase’ rather than over the surface of the compost. There is also a group of Bromeliads which do not need watering at all.
A novel way of growing Bromeliads and showing your plants is to create a Bromeliad tree. Otherwise you can keep them in peat-based compost in small pots bearing drainage holes. Remember that they all have tiny root systems which means that overpotting and overwatering can be fatal.
Secrets of success
Temperature: High temperatures (above 75°F) may be required to bring plants into flower, but average warmth (minimum 50°F) is satisfactory for foliage types or plants in flower.
Light: Most Bromeliads require a brightly lit spot away from direct sunlight.
Watering: Never overwater, and ensure that there is good drainage. Keep the central ‘vase’ filled with water – use rainwater in hard water areas. Empty and refill the ‘vase’ every 1-2 months. Water the compost only when it dries out. With non-vase varieties keep the compost moist, but never wet.
Air humidity: Mist leaves in summer. Feeding through the leaves is the natural method of nutrition, so occasionally use dilute liquid fertilizer instead of water in the sprayer.