Add a touch of the tropics to your world with bromeliads

Tillandsia velutina Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsTillandsia velutina Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsBromeliads are so diverse there’s sure to be some which will suit your growing conditions, either indoors, or outdoors, so why not add a touch of the tropics to your world and spoil yourself with a couple of bromeliads. In this lengthy article you will read all about their origins and distribution, as well as how to care for, feed, water, propagate, plant or mount all the various types documented below.

Bromeliads are amongst the most fascinating plants in the world, and for good reason. The foliage of many types are the most widely patterned and coloured of any plant in the world, and the flower spikes of some species can reach up to 10m tall while others are as small as 2 to 3mm. Bromeliads are also found in quite diverse regions, from tropical rainforests to coastal deserts, and even on salt sprayed cliffs right next to the ocean, so there’s sure to be some which will suit your growing conditions, either indoors, or outdoors. For all these reasons, and many more, it’s not hard to see why bromeliads just never seem to go out of fashion.

Tillandsia usneoides Image by Nadine Doerle from PixabayTillandsia usneoides Image by Nadine Doerle from PixabayHow long ago the ancestral archetype of bromeliads first evolved cannot be determined, but the oldest bromeliad-like fossil found in South American rock sediments has been estimated to be around 30 million years old, and has been named Karatophyllum bromelioides. The affinity of this fossil to Bromeliaceae was confirmed, but there are uncertainties surrounding its age. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that Bromeliaceae is a relative newcomer in the plant kingdom, and did not diverge into its extant subfamilies until 19 million years ago.

The greatest numbers of primitive species are found in the Andean highlands of South America, where they originated in the tepuis of the Guiana Shield which is located along the northern coast of South America, and is a 1.7-billion-year-old geological formation that is home to lowland and sub-montane forests, and high flat-topped peak mountains known as “tepuis”. As a whole, the Shield covers 270 million hectares and encompasses French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, and parts of Colombia and Brazil.

Today, the commonly called "Bromeliad" or Bromeliaceae family of plants covers all members of the pineapple family, with over 3,000 species in approximately 57 genera. There are also thousands of stunning hybrids, many registered and many not. They can be found growing in the tropical and subtropical regions of North and South America, from Virginia in the Southern USA through to Argentina. An abundance of species are found in Mexico, some regions of Central America, the West Indies, eastern and southern Brazil, and the Andean region from northern Chile to Colombia.

The species Pitcairnia feliciana is endemic to central Guinea in West Africa, where it can be found growing on sandstone outcrops of the Fouta Djallon highlands in Middle Guinea. Its discovery in Guinea was unexpected, as it is the only species of bromeliad not native to the Americas, and it is believed to have reached Africa by long distance dispersal some 12 million years ago. Click here to see Google images of this lovely bromeliad.

The leaves of the many species of bromeliads take different shapes, from needle thin to broad and flat, symmetrical to irregular, spiky to soft. Some are the most widely patterned and coloured of any plant in the world, and although the leaves vary greatly in size and shape, all bromeliads have leaves in a spiral arrangement called a “rosette”.

Neoregelia 'Koolau Dawn' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNeoregelia 'Koolau Dawn' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsThe bases of the leaves in the rosette may overlap tightly, like those of Neoregelia, to form a ‘reservoir’ or ‘tank’ where water is held. These bromeliads are less reliant on their hard wiry roots for water and nutrient absorption, and more adept at anchoring to trees and rocks. Included with these are Guzmania, and the grey leaved Tillandsias who don’t store water, nor do they grow in the soil, gathering all their water and nutrients from their leaf scales (trichomes).

Various organisms take advantage of the pools of water trapped by bromeliads.  A study of 209 plants from the Ecuadorian lowlands identified 11,219 animals, representing more than 300 distinct species, many of which are found only on bromeliads. Examples include some species of ostracods, small salamanders about 2.5cm in length, and tree frogs. Jamaican bromeliads are home to Metopaulias depressus, a reddish-brown crab 2cm across, and some bromeliads even form homes for other species of bromeliads.

Scales on bromeliads serve as a very efficient absorption system and they also help to reduce water loss by shielding the plants from solar radiation. These scales are so efficient they allow some species in the Dyckia and Hechtia genera to thrive in arid climates such as the deserts in Texas and Mexico. With these bromeliads you do not have to worry about humidity, as they are so Vriesea scalaris rubra Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsVriesea scalaris rubra Picture courtesy Plant Fanaticsheavily covered with scales, they appear silvery-white, sometimes forming patterns and banding on the leaves. If these types of bromeliad are grown in more humid areas, the scales are often smaller and less noticeable.

The inflorescence is a group of flowers arranged on a stem called a “scape”, and the flowers of bromeliads are considerably more diverse than any other plant family. The largest bromeliad is the magnificent Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii), which reaches 3 to 4 metres, with a flower spike 9 to 10 metres tall, and the smallest is probably Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides), an epiphytic flowering plant from the tropics with slender grey leaves which hang down from the branches of large trees, upon which it attaches itself.

Click on the highlighted text to see Google images of the plants mentioned.

With a few exceptions, the flowering spikes are generally produced from the centre of the rosette, and they may be branched, or simple, and retaining their colour for several weeks, or even up to 12 months. Some flowers are short, as in the Neoregelias, whose flowers are nestled deep inside the rosette, while in others the scape may be long with the flowers held away from the plant, like the Alcantareas bromeliads, a group of large Bromeliads, some of which spread up to 1.5m, and produce magnificently tall flower spikes up to 2.5m high. Some bromeliad flowers are even scented, like the beautiful Wallisia cyanea, whose scent is reminiscent of clove spice.

Aechmea fasciata Image by Chesna from PixabayAechmea fasciata Image by Chesna from PixabayMost bromeliads grow in moist mountain forests at altitudes between 1,500 to 2,500 metres, where they have cloud envelopment for several hours a day, enabling the scales to capture sufficient moisture. The leaves of others are almost completely silvery-white with scales, enabling them to inhabit nearly rainless coastal deserts. Some survive frequent seasonal flooding, while others grow so close to the ocean that they are continually subjected to salt spray, sufficient to kill off most other plants.

Although a few species have adapted to high tropical mountains where nights can be frosty, no bromeliad can tolerate prolonged sub-zero temperatures for long. Tillandsia is one of those which still occur at 4,000 to 4,300 metres in Peru, and the largest bromeliad, the queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii) which is native to the high Andes of Bolivia and Peru, and approaches the snowline in Colombia at 4,800 metres. 

The whole Bromeliaceae family is named after the Swedish medical doctor and botanist Olaf Bromelius (1639-1705). Bromeliads are divided into groups called "genera" and although these groups and their various species require varying amounts of light, water and humidity, the majority of the plants in each group will often have the same general cultural requirements. The most commonly cultivated groups today are: Ananas, Aechmea, Billbergia, Cryptanthus, Dyckia, Guzmania, Hechtia, Neoregelia, Nidularium, Orthophytum, Tillandsia, and Vriesea.

Ananas comosus Image by Arut Thongsombut from PixabayAnanas comosus Image by Arut Thongsombut from PixabayBromeliads were documented and introduced to the west by Christopher Columbus, who saw pineapples being cultivated by the indigenous people of the island of Guadaloupe in the West Indies, and upon returning from his 2nd voyage to the New World in 1493, he introduced the edible pineapple (Ananus comosus) to Spain.  

The cultivation of the edible pineapple in heated glasshouses began in Europe in the 1600’s, and during this time, and into the early 1800s, interest in finding and cultivating more of these fascinating plants steadily increased and other species were introduced. In the 1800’s much of the interest was centred in France, Belgium and The Netherlands, and growers in these countries started hybridising plants for the wholesale trade.

This fascination with bromeliads continued until the outbreak of World War 1, which put a stop to these activities, and sadly many of the large European collections were either lost or destroyed during this period, and there was little revival of interest in their cultivation between the two World Wars.

After WW11, Julian Marnier-Lapostolle (1902-1976) had the largest private collection in France, but the main interest in bromeliads was in the USA, where the person responsible for collecting and introducing more bromeliads than anyone else was Mulford Foster (1888-1978) of Orlando, Florida. His enthusiasm and introduction of new plants was primarily responsible for the formation of The Bromeliad Society as an international organisation.

Cryptanthus bivittatus Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsCryptanthus bivittatus Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsCommon Varieties:

There are thousands of different bromeliads that come in an array of shapes and sizes, and which work in many varied light and climatic conditions, both indoors, or outdoors, so you’re bound to find varieties that can work for you. Below you will find a short list of Bromeliads available in South Africa from Plant Fanatics, but be sure to read the cultivation section where you will find detailed instructions on growing the various types of bromeliads, both indoors and outdoors.

Plant Fanatics have a wonderful selection of Bromeliads, and I have only documented a few, so if you are itching to grow these amazing plants, I recommend that you visit their website to see more. Most of the beautiful photographs shown in this article are also kindly provided by them, and if you click on any picture it will take you to their page.

Ananas

Ananas is a genus with thin leaves, and includes the commercially grown pineapple plant, Ananas comosus, which is native to southern Brazil and Paraguay. Popular modern cultivars include:  ‘Smooth Cayenne’, ‘Sugar Loaf’, which is smaller but produces extremely sweet and juicy fruit, and ‘Variegata’ which has creamy white and pale green striped leaves and whose fruit starts out bright pink.

Aechmea pineliana var. minuta Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsAechmea pineliana var. minuta Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsAechmea

Aechmea comprises eight subgenera and around 255 species distributed from Mexico through South America and the Caribbean. Some have adapted for growth in moist, shady forests, while others prefer more arid regions. Species in this genus are epiphytes which typically grow on trees or rocks, and they are often called “urn plants” because they have broadly bowl-shaped rosettes with arching leaves. The leathery, strap-like leaves may be solid, spotted, striped, or banded and they all have sharp teeth on the margins. The cylindrical, cone-like, upright or pendant inflorescences have large, colourful bracts that remain in colour for weeks or even months. They are often red, pink or orange, with blue, yellow or black flowers, and the flowers are often followed by fleshy, bright red or blue berries.

Aechmeas will reward you with beautiful, long-lasting flower spikes and truly unique foliage, and there are many beautiful and unique varieties which make excellent gifts. And although they are all epiphytes, they also grow well in soil and are often sold as potted plants in nurseries and flower shops. Their minimal care requirements make them an ideal plant for the beginner bromeliad growers. Most Aechmeas are well suited to grow outdoors in frost-free climates, are relatively easy to grow indoors, and can flourish in office spaces. They thrive in bright shade or indirect sunlight, and under florescent lighting in offices etc.

Aechmea fasciata is commonly called the “Urn Plant” and is an extremely popular pot plant in South Africa with its thick, broad leaves which are virtually covered with silvery, horizontal banding. The large flower spike can last for several months, and is Aechme 'Lucky Stripes' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsAechme 'Lucky Stripes' Picture courtesy Plant Fanaticscomposed of bright pink bracts with small purple flowers appearing between them. This bromeliad will thrive in almost any indoor environment with little attention.

Aechmea pineliana var. minuta is an eye-catching, compact plant with stiff leaves in intense shades of rose, copper and grey.  The beauty of this plant is enhanced by prominent dark spines on the leaf margins, and silver barring on the undersides of the leaves. The flower spike resembles a bottlebrush with its bright red flower stalk topped with yellow flowers. It is a very tough plant that can grow almost anywhere and which adapts easily to growing under a wide range of conditions. It copes with salt-laden winds in coastal gardens, and inland it copes well with frost and dry, drought like conditions. This bromeliad is perfectly suited for growing epiphytically, and is highly recommend for tree stumps or decorative driftwood.

Aechmea ‘Lucky Stripes’ has very attractive bright green leaves with broad cream margins, and produces striking pink and cobalt-blue, bottlebrush-like flowers in winter, and remains in colour for many months. The soft, glossy foliage grows about 30cm tall and because the plant is undemanding and multiplies quickly to form attractive clumps, it is a popular choice as a low maintenance and water-wise groundcover

Aechmea fosteriana is also known as “Foster’s Favorite” and there are several different cultivars, some with dark green leaves with a shiny, glossed appearance, and others are a deep purple, almost black throughout the leaves. The bracts are a deep red or wine colour, and the drooping panicle of blue and orange flowers appears in the summer, later giving way to coral-red berries. Foster’s favourite is a vigorous grower which thrives in bright, indirect sunlight, and multiplies freely to form colourful clumps. It is perfectly suited for growing in hanging baskets, and ideal to mount in a tree, or on a piece of decorative driftwood.

Billbergia amoena Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsBillbergia amoena Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsBillbergia

Billbergia has about 60 species that are primarily native to Brazil, but their range extends from central Mexico to northern Argentina. They are usually epiphytic, growing on trees and shrubs, and their lush foliage forms a centralized reservoir to catch water and other nutrients for the plants, which range in size from 20 to 90cm tall, depending on the species. These bromeliads have a tall, narrow vase shape, with spiny-edged leaves, and as striking as the foliage can be, the red, orange, pink, or purple flowers, which usually appear in late summer and autumn, are the main attraction. It blooms for a couple of weeks, and readily makes new pups.

Billbergia thrives in bright, indirect sunlight, does not require a lot of water, and should only be watered once the soil is dry, but it does require warmth and humidity to thrive, both indoors and outdoors. It will tolerate a wider range of temperatures than many other bromeliads, withstanding temperatures down to -3°C for short periods of time. This makes it an ideal choice for outdoor landscapes in climates that don’t regularly experience hard frosts. Another plus is that billbergia can also be grown in the soil, and will spread easily through garden beds if grown in the right conditions. And, if you plant a cluster of Billbergia in the soil near a tree, it will likely scoot over and start to creep up the trunk.

Billbergia amoena is a highly variable species in size and colour, but generally the flower spike has showy cerise-pink bracts and the most beautiful and unusual blue-tipped green flowers. Its green leaves are faintly banded with silver, and the plant is vigorous and easy to grow, multiplying quickly to form large clumps. It is perfectly suited for growing epiphytically and is highly recommended for mounting in trees, tree stumps, or on decorative driftwood.

Cryptanthus bivittatus 'Pink Starlight' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsCryptanthus bivittatus 'Pink Starlight' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsCryptanthus

Cryptanthus are terrestrial bromeliads, native to Brazil, and are commonly known as “earth stars” because these miniature bromeliads have lovely flat, star-shaped rosette’s of wavy-edged leaves. And with more than a thousand hybrids to choose from, with a great variety of foliage patterns, banded, spotted, solid, or virtually any other pattern, and colours ranging  from dark green to bright pink and red, bromeliad enthusiasts are truly spoilt for choice. Like most bromeliads, Cryptanthus species are mostly grown for their interesting leaves, but they also produce small but beautiful white or pink blooms. The plant readily produces offsets, and the life-cycle of these plants is about three years from pup to flowering plant.

Different species within the Cryptanthus genus may require a slightly different care routine, but all share a few basic rules for care. Although the varieties may require different levels of light, because they naturally grow under the cover of trees in rainforests, most plants within this genus will generally thrive in some sort of indirect sunlight or light shade. They all thrive in humid environments, and grow best with fertilisation. These little plants are great to grow indoors because they love to grow in very small pots. Keep the soil moderately moist and do not leave the pots standing in trays of water.

Cryptanthus sinuosus 'Cascade' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsCryptanthus sinuosus 'Cascade' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsCryptanthus bivittatus is a fascinating miniature, with a rosette of stiff, spiky, salmon-rose leaves with an olive green mid-stripe and margin. It is moderately easy to care for, and grows up to 15cm in diameter. The clusters of small white flowers nestle in the centre of the plant, and after flowering new plantlets quickly develop between the leaves

Cryptanthus bivittatus ‘Pink Starlight’ is a very popular variety which is quite easy to care for, and which only grows 15cm in diameter. It is a fascinating little plant, with its rosette of stiff, spiky leaves with bright pink and white stripes, and a beautifully contrasting olive-green mid-stripe. Clusters of small white flowers nestle in the centre of the plant, and after flowering new plantlets quickly develop between the leaves.

Cryptanthus ‘Café Au Lait’ has huge appeal with its flat rosette of light coffee-coloured, wavy-edged leaves, which develop a lovely peachy hue in good light conditions, and grow up to 12cm in diameter. Clusters of small white flowers nestle in the centre of the plant, after which new plantlets quickly develop between the leaves. It is moderately easy to cultivate.

Cryptanthus sinuosus ‘Cascade’ is a very interesting plant with a most unusual growth habit, as new plantlets develop on long cascading stolons which can reach 40 to 60cm long.  The rosette is medium sized, growing up to 20cm in diameter, and in bright light conditions the spiky foliage is a brilliant red-bronze colour, and the clusters of small white flowers nestle in the centre of the plant. It is easy to care for, and absolutely stunning if grown in a hanging basket.

Dyckia ibiramensis Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsDyckia ibiramensis Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsDyckia

Dyckia is a terrestrial genus with 120 species whose rosettes do not hold water. The succulent leaves are very stiff and spiny, and on some species the leaves are green, but most appear grey-green or white from their dense scale covering, making Dyckia more tolerant of harsh environments and drought than many other bromeliads.  Most species form large clumps and some can produce bright yellow or orange flowers on un-branched spikes that can reach over 1m in height, and which emerge from between the leaves instead of from the centre, as with other bromeliads. The rosette does not die after flowering as it does in most bromeliad species. This genus needs very bright light and will tolerate months of drought, but needs copious amounts of water during the growing season.

Dyckia ibiramensis produces an attractive rosette of thick and shiny, apple green leaves adorned with attractive spines, and the tall, branched flower spike of golden yellow flowers can reach 1m high. It is low maintenance, water-wise, and perfect for anyone starting a bromeliad collection because it is easy to grow and offsets form freely to create a very dense, decorative clump, which makes an excellent focal point for rock gardens and containers. It is ideally suited to growing on hot sunny patios, balconies or courtyards.

Neoregelia 'Harlequen' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNeoregelia 'Harlequen' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNeoregelia

Neoregelia has about 100 species which are native to Brazil, forming rosettes that are generally broad, but some are vase-shaped. The leaves vary considerably among the species, and may be green, banded, striped, or spotted with various colours. The central leaves of many species turn bright pink, purple or red at maturity, but newer hybrids are frequently patterned in glowing pastels, even when young. The leaf margins are normally serrated but not spiny. The small, inconspicuous, white, blue or lavender flowers barely rise above the water in the central cup, so these plants are grown primarily for their colourful foliage.

Neorgelias are among the most widely hybridized types of bromeliads and are easy to grow. Whether you are growing them indoors or outdoors, site Neorgelias in an area that receives bright light for at least 4 to 5 hours per day, as this allows the plant to develop the best colour. They also love warmth, combined with cooler night temperatures. The plant readily produces small plantlets, especially when grown in moist, humid locations.

Neoregelia ‘Clarice’ produces an upright rosette of stiff, leathery, bronze-green foliage which is attractively cross banded with mahogany on both the upper and undersides of the leaves, and adorned with black spines.  It can grow up to 40cm in diameter, and produces lavender flowers with white centres, nestled in the central cup.  It is a tough, water-wise and low-maintenance bromeliad which is capable of growing under a wide range of conditions, making it perfect for adding colour contrast in the garden.

Neoregelia ‘Fireball’ is a very popular mini Neoregelia which averages 25cm in diameter and has intense red leaves, and the lavender flowers are nestled in the centre of the cup. Fireball provides a great contrast of colour in the garden, is easy to grow, and an outstanding choice for hanging baskets, or for growing epiphytically on trees or driftwood, or even over rocks and boulders. In no time at all it will develop into a beautiful cluster of plants which can eventually become huge, creating a fantastic focal point in the garden.

Neoregelia 'Clarice' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNeoregelia 'Clarice' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNeoregelia ‘Harlequen’ produces an attractive, medium sized rosette, growing up to 40cm in diameter. Its foliage has a unique colouration of bronze-green, overlaid with purple, and the inner leaves of the rosette develop bands of lime-green. At flowering time the inner leaves of the rosette intensify in colour to a very bright purple, and the lavender flowers are nestled in the centre of the cup. Harlequin is easy to grow, and will add wonderful colour and contrast in the garden.

Neoregelia ‘Inkwell’ is a very popular Neoregelia hybrid which grows up to 50cm in diameter and produces a rosette of broad, leathery green leaves with broad cream margins, and is randomly spotted with purple.  At flowering time the inner leaves of the rosette turn purple-black resembling an ink well, and the lavender flowers are nestled in the centre of the cup. It is easy to grow, a great choice for growing in containers, and a wonderful focal point in the garden.

Neoregelia ‘Justin’s Song’ produces a dramatic, large growing rosette of broad, leathery leaves, growing up to 60cm in diameter. Its colourful foliage is beautifully and uniformly mottled with wine-red and lime-green, and its lavender flowers are nestled in the central cup. It is easy to grow, and a real stand out specimen plant which is perfect as a focal point in the garden. It also provides a wonderful colour contrast, and is great for growing in containers.

Neoregelia ‘Koolau Dawn’ produces a large-sized rosette of broad, leathery, bright pink leaves, growing up to 70cm in diameter.  This plant is an absolute stunner – the foliage seems to glow all year round, and the lavender flowers are nestled in the centre cup. It is water-wise, easy to grow, and provides wonderful contrast in the garden with its beautiful form and colour.

Tillandsia velickiana Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsTillandsia velickiana Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsTillandsia   

Tillandsia has approximately 550 species, and is the largest, most diverse and widely distributed genus in the Bromeliad family. Most plants in this species are epiphytes, and their grey-green leaves have smooth margins and are densely covered with fuzzy scales that give the plants their characteristic colour. Many species have a wonderfully strange growth form, with curling, twisted, or otherwise distorted leaves, and their rosettes also vary greatly, and can be very symmetrical, or strangely contorted. Their flowers are also quite variable, ranging from barely visible, to long, multi-branched spikes. The spikes are often colourful, and the pink, red or lavender bracts enclosing the flowers are usually the showiest part. Some species even have fragrant flowers, and the duration of flowering varies considerably by species, from a couple of weeks to a full year.

Tillandsias require bright, indirect sunlight, both outdoors and indoors, and indoors, or in offices, lighting like that from fluorescent bulbs will work well. They need more humidity than tank bromeliads and tend to dehydrate in the dry air of most homes, but can still be grown successfully with more frequent watering, as merely misting the plants may not be adequate.

Tillandsia usneoides ‘Spanish Moss’ is a tiny plant which is enthralling because it quickly develops into large and impressive clumps of very long, pendulous strands of fine, silvery-grey foliage, and bears minute but fragrant green flowers. This Tillandsia species will add an exotic rainforest look to your garden, and because it grows quickly, you can even create a mystical living curtain in no time.  Spanish moss is undemanding and a highly adaptable plant which tolerates a wide range of growing conditions.

Tillandsia ionantha 'Rubra' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsTillandsia ionantha 'Rubra' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsTillandsia velickiana is just as captivating as Spanish moss with its graceful, spreading rosette of wiry-looking yet soft, silver foliage which is absolutely covered with scales.  It’s easy to grow and its beautiful semi-pendant flower spike has watermelon-pink flower bracts with blue flowers.

Tillandsia velutina enchants with is velvety soft, grey-green rosettes of leaves, which are blushed with bright pink to purple when the plant is about to bloom. The light purple flowers emerge from the centre of the plant and protrude enough to put on a very good show along with the pink foliage. It is easy to grow and multiplies freely to form attractive clumps. Attach it to pieces of driftwood or tie it in a tree where its beauty is easily seen.

Tillandsia ionantha rubra is yet another amazing bromeliad which is easy to grow and which adapts easily to growing in a wide range of conditions. It quickly forms a tight ball with clusters of tiny, spiky rosettes of narrow leaves that are covered in silvery scales. The plant undergoes a remarkable transformation prior to flowering, and the entire plant turns beautiful shades of red at the same time as the lovely violet flowers emerge from the centre of the plant, creating an impressive display which is sure to attract attention.

Wallisia cyanea Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsWallisia cyanea Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsWallisia

Wallisia is a genus of Bromeliad which contains around 4 species originating from Central and Southern America. They are an epiphytic species which produce showy flower displays in spring and autumn, consisting of flattened spikes surrounded by colourful bracts. The foliage is narrow, strap-shaped, and may be marked with red at the bases.

Wallisia cyanea ‘Pink Quill’ was previously Tillandsia cyanea and has been re-classified into a new genus. This fascinating epiphytic plant from the rainforests of Ecuador remains extremely popular because it is easy to grow and has an incredible ‘wow’ factor! Its stemless rosettes of thin, recurved leaves form a lovely fountain shape and are very attractive, and the large paddle-shaped flower spikes have brilliant pink bracts between which the intense purple-blue flowers appear. It can take 5 years to reach full maturity, growing anything from 10cm tall with an equal spread, to 50cm tall and wide. This bromeliad can be grown either epiphytically or in a container in a free draining potting soil. It grows well indoors and will add an exotic touch to your garden or home.

Vriesea foliage hybrid No PF1 Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsVriesea foliage hybrid No PF1 Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsVriesea

Vriesea is a large and diverse group of about 250 species that are mostly tank epiphytes, but some are terrestrial, and its species are widespread over Mexico, Central America, South America and the West Indies. They vary greatly in size, from miniatures which grow only 15cm in diameter, to giants 1.5m tall and wide. Their rosettes form broad vases, and the smooth-margined leaves are either a shiny green, or patterned with scales or translucent windows. The spectacular inflorescences are mostly flattened, creating a sword-shaped appearance, and may be single or branched. They are composed of brightly coloured, overlapping bracts of brilliant red or yellow which can last for months, and many are bicolored. Numerous gorgeous hybrids have been produced that are far superior in colour and ease of culture than the wild species. This genus is closely related to Guzmania, as both Guzmania and Vriesea have dry capsules that split open to release parachute like seeds, similar to the Dandelion.

Vriesea hybrids grow very well indoors and outdoors, and will add an exotic touch wherever they are displayed. They are magnificent plants for containers, and perfectly suited for growing epiphytically on trees, tree stumps, or decorative driftwood, in shady spots in the garden or on a patio, Vriesea erythrodactylon Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsVriesea erythrodactylon Picture courtesy Plant Fanaticsand if space is limited plant them in hanging baskets.

Vriesea erythrodactylon is a charming small species from Brazil, with soft green leaves which have a dark purple, almost black base. The sword-like shaped flower spike has tips which flare upwards, and the bracts are a soft green, with tips that are tinged with a lovely rosy-pink. The flowering bracts last for a long time, and the small yellow flowers contrast beautifully with the soft green leaves.

Vriesea foliage hybrid No PF1 is a large, stately plant growing up to 1m in diameter, with broad, shiny green leaves dramatically marked with irregular, hieroglyphic-like, purple-black cross bands. It is grown for its outstandingly beautiful foliage, which makes it a great accent plant.

Vriesea scalaris rubra is a fascinating and showy small epiphytic species from Brazil which will be the centre of attraction when in flower with its lovely, soft olive green foliage which is suffused with burgundy. Its flower spikes are most unusual because they are not straight, but rather wiry looking and a bit skew. The bright red bracts, from which pretty yellow flowers emerge, are also widely spaced, making it even more unusual.

Guzmania 'Alii' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsGuzmania 'Alii' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsGuzmania

Guzmania is a genus of over 120 species which are mainly epiphytic but can be terrestrial. They are native to Florida, the West Indies, southern Mexico, Central America, and northern and western South America. They are also found at altitudes of up to 3,500m in the Andean rain forests. Typically, they have long, smooth and glossy green leaves that rise from a deep central cup, and the flowers are small but are surrounded by attractive bracts in shades of yellow to orange and red, and they remain attractive on the plant for a long time. Guzmanias are not difficult to grow, and will reward you with colour, both indoors or outdoors, with little or no effort.

Because guzmanias come from shadier habitats than most other bromeliads, they do well in lower light conditions in the garden or home, but do need warm temperatures to do well. Modern hybrids are sold in small pots at nurseries and flower shops. They are stunning table-top plants indoors, and can also be placed outdoors in summer, and some species are hardy enough to be grown outdoors year round in frost-free areas.

Guzmania Alii produces a luscious rosette of soft, light green leaves which are overlaid with fine red lines, and the large waxy looking, star shaped flower head is a striking bright yellow with burnt orange bracts.  It is easy to grow, and the flower appears in summer and can last for up to three months, making Alii a great indoor pot plant, and perfect to brighten up shady spots in the garden, or on the patio.

Nidularium 'Casimir Morobe' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNidularium 'Casimir Morobe' Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNidularium

The genus Nidularium includes 50 species native to the rainforests of Brazil, where they are found growing on the ground and on decaying logs. These bromeliads are very similar looking to those of the Neoregelia genus, and are often confused with them. They reach about 30cm in height and 50cm in diameter, producing glossy green or variegated leaves, with serrated margins, and which are arranged in closed rosettes. The central leaves are smaller and red in colour, hence its common name “Blushing Bromeliad”. The flowers are small but surrounded by attractive red, yellow, orange, pink or purple bracts. The Nidularium get their name from the Latin word, "nidus”, meaning nest, which refers to the nest-like arrangement of short leaves that appears in the centre of the plant just before it blooms.

Because they come from cooler climates than Guzmanias, they are often easier to grow, and are widely cultivated indoors for their handsome foliage and colourful bracts. In warm climates they are also used to good effect in garden beds or attached to trees. Nidularium thrive in strong filtered light, with no direct sun. Most species will grow for 3 to 5 years before flowering, and the plants produce many offsets for propagation.

Nidularium ‘Casimir Morobe’ produces large rosette of mottled, soft green leaves growing up to 50cm in diameter, and at flowering time the inner rosette of leaves turns a deep rose colour. This bromeliad is a vigorous and attractive shade loving plant which multiples freely, and is easy to care for.

Nidularium procerum produces an attractive, medium-sized rosette of light green leaves, which have a copper tinge to them if the plant receives good light. The leaf margins have minute spines, and the short flower spike bears brick-red floral bracts which surround the vermillion-red flowers. It is an excellent choice as a groundcover for semi shaded to shady spots in the garden, is easy to grow and readily produces offsets.

Quesnelia testudo Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsQuesnelia testudo Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsQuesnelia

Quesnelia is an endemic genus of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. It features about 21 species and three varieties that are distributed from Santa Catarina to Bahia, with diversity centres in the Rio de Janeiro coastal region and the rainforest of southern Bahia.

Quesnelia testudo is a very striking, cold hardy species which also thrives in heat and drought conditions, making it perfect for dry gardens. It is endemic to the Atlantic Forest ecoregion of south-eastern Brazil, where it can be found growing on trees in virgin forests near Serra do Mar. Its rosette of bright, apple-green leaves are lightly banded with silver and slightly serrated at the edges. The leaf tips have sharp tips, adding to the attraction of this unusual species.  It can attain sizes up to 46cm high and 38cm across, and the beautiful cone-shaped flower reaches just over 30cm high, and bears deep pink bracts and violet or white petals.

This epiphyte also grows well in the soil and can tolerate temperatures down to -3°C for short spells, with the foliage showing little damage from frost. It is easy to grow and able to withstand full sunlight, semi-shade, or full shade. It is perfect for landscaping because it is a very vigorous grower, producing a lush cluster of plants. Individual plants start to bloom in early winter, and large beds of them may show colour until late spring. It is also wonderful mounted on trees, rocks, or driftwood.  This plant is spectacular when in flower and will definitely attract attention.

Portea petropolitana var. extensa Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsPortea petropolitana var. extensa Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsPortea

Portea is a genus of terrestrial bromeliads, with 7 species, all of which are endemic to the Atlantic Forest biome (Mata Atlantica Brasileira), located in south-eastern Brazil. It is found within the states of Bahia, Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro. In their native range the plants thrive in strong light, and the foliage is a bright, light green colour, and quite attractive with its sharp spines.

Portea petropolitana var. extensa is a large upright plant, growing up to 1 metre tall, and when it flowers it produces a spectacular, tall cerise coloured flower spike up to 1.5 metre in height, with gorgeous purple-blue flowers, followed by dark purple berries. It is water-wise and very easy to grow, because it is tough and adaptable to growing in a wide range of different conditions.  This bromeliad is fantastic for creating a dramatic focal point in the garden, and it will grow in full sun, or light shade.

Cultivation/Propagation:

Bromeliads flourish in tropical and subtropical climates and are often used in these areas as bedding plants for outdoor ornamental plantings, or they are attached to trees, rocks, or driftwood to make focal points in the garden. Although some bromeliads will survive freezing temperatures for short spells at a time, most will not survive very cold temperatures. In cold winter regions they can be grown as indoor plants which can be moved outdoors to enjoy natural rainfall and humidity during the warm summer months. If you are growing bromeliads indoors it is important that temperatures fluctuate by at least 10 degrees daily, because most bromeliads have a special type of photosynthesis that requires substantial day-night temperature variations.

Most bromeliads prefer a relative humidity of 50 to 75% - as temperatures increase so must the humidity. However, for those bromeliads which grow in more arid regions, producing leaf scales in dense bands in order to collect moisture, you don’t need to worry about humidity, and if the humidity is too high, it seems to inhibit the formation of the fascinating leaf scales the plant is grown for, making these types less attractive under these conditions. Therefore, it is important to understand which type of bromeliad you have, and it helps a lot to group them together, according to their water and light requirements.

Guzmanias in the garden Image by MaisonAL from PixabayGuzmanias in the garden Image by MaisonAL from PixabayThe different species vary in their light requirements, and although some flourish in full sun, most require lower light conditions, and a general rule is to give a plant as much light as it can tolerate without burning or bleaching. At these higher light levels most bromeliads must also have higher humidity, as well as good air circulation, to prevent drying and burning. If you are moving your plants around to find the ideal position for them, remember that the plants need to be acclimatised to brighter conditions gradually over a period of several weeks. Bromeliads can also be grown under fluorescent lights, and the lights should be hung about 20cm above the tops of the plants.

Many bromeliads make good houseplants because they thrive under lower light conditions, and they will survive for months or even years under less than ideal conditions, but in order for them to thrive indoors, you need to provide the plants with satisfactory light, the correct temperature, and humidity if necessary. Also ensure that they are correctly potted or mounted, and water and fertilise them as recommended.

Bromeliads prefer water on the acidic side (pH 4.0 to 7.0), but many can tolerate water up to at least pH 8.0. Some tap water is satisfactory for growing bromeliads, but be sure to avoid alkaline or salty water, and do not use softened water as it contains lots of sodium (salt). Some types of bromeliads, particularly the miniature species, are very sensitive to salts, so distilled water should always be used for these. Hard water is also not recommended because although it will not affect the plants health, it can leave spots on the leaves, making the plants unsightly, especially those with shiny green leaves.

Nidularium procerum Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsNidularium procerum Picture courtesy Plant FanaticsWhen caring for tank bromeliads it is important to keep water in the central reservoir at all times, and this is especially important if you are growing them indoors, but be sure to flush this water out and replace it with fresh water regularly, or at least once a month, as water left to stagnate in the tank can lead to bacterial infection, pests, and a build-up of salinity that can eventually lead to plant damage. Filling the tanks with rain water, filtered or distilled water, will help prevent the build-up of salts commonly found in tap water. However, be aware that very pure water can draw nutrients out of the leaves, so to avoid this problem add a very small amount of fertiliser to the distilled water.

Bromeliads should be fertilised frequently with water-soluble fertiliser for acidic flowering plants, but it is important that you do not use the full recommended strength, rather dilute the fertiliser to. Drench the potting medium, foliage and the central tank with the mixture. Slow-release fertiliser can also be added to the potting medium of some types. Avoid over fertilisation at all costs as this will result in loss of colour and can also produce overgrown rosettes with poor form.

There are numerous materials that can be used for potting bromeliads. Terrestrial bromeliads can be potted in a good acidic potting soil which holds moisture yet drains quickly, and in garden beds acid compost is good. Epiphytes which are potted do not require soil but rather an acidic mixture, merely to hold the plant upright. A good quality orchid bark mix, together with coarse perlite, peat moss or palm peat are all good for bromeliads.

Choose the type of pot for your plants depending on your growing conditions. Porous clay pots dry out more quickly and are therefore more suitable for humid climates, or if you tend to overwater plants. Conversely, plastic pots retain moisture better, making them useful to use in dry climates, as well as indoors where there is air conditioning or heating in winter. The pots you select should also be the appropriate size for the root system of the type of bromeliad you are growing. Because most bromeliads have small root systems, choose a pot which is much smaller than you would normally use for other plants of the same size. If the plant is unstable in such a small pot and wants to topple over, place the small pot inside a larger pot for support.

As most plants grow older it is normal for the outer leaves to turn yellow and die. These should be removed to improve the appearance of the plant. Trimming of brown leaf tips may also be needed in your grooming procedure, especially if the plant is being grown indoors where the humidity is low. Flowers also need to be cut off as soon as they turn brown or die off. This applies to bromeliads with a flower stalk, like Guzmania. Pruning also helps encourage the mother plant to produce new pups. 

Mounted Bromeliads Image by jggrz from PixabayMounted Bromeliads Image by jggrz from PixabayHow to mount bromeliads:

Decorating indoors with bromeliads has become very popular with interior decorators, and one of their favourite ways to accent any home or office is to mount bromeliads in the most amazing ways.  And if you live in the warmer frost-free, subtropical regions of South Africa you are lucky enough to be able to grow and mount them outdoors as well.

Many of the epiphytic bromeliads have adapted very well to growing in pots, and that is the way most of them are still sold in garden centres, however, their ability to grow without soil is one of their main attractions, so why not mount them to show off this unique quality.

Selecting just the right material to mount your collection on is most important because your bromeliads are going to be growing there for a long time, so choose material that is not going to deteriorate and fall apart just when your bromeliad plants have rooted and are beginning to flourish. Bromeliads love to grow on rough surfaces, making rocks, hardwood tree stumps or logs, and driftwood ideal to mount on, not forgetting cork which is used to hang plants on walls, or from ceilings. Make sure whatever surface you are going to mount onto is clean and clear of any other organic material. Scrub off any moss or fungi with a brush and spray the surface area with a hose. This helps to keep the plants safe from diseases and gives them a nice surface to grow into.

Any driftwood that was taken from the beach should be soaked in fresh water for a few days to remove salt from the surface, changing the water occasionally. Bromeliads are much less likely to attach if there is too much salt and their roots could become dehydrated.

Bromeliads will not be able to attach onto any surface if they are not attached firmly, as even the slightest sway from a breeze can jar the plant and prevent the roots from attaching. Therefore, it is important to use the right material to attach a bromeliad securely.

A natural jute garden twine is highly recommended as it is organic and will rot away on its own, making it better for the environment, and you don’t have to worry about the twine cutting into the plant or the stem. It is also great to use because it will swell and shrink with the stem when wet and dry, providing a better hold. The downside of using twine is that if it gets too wet too often, it may rot and break its hold before the plant has had sufficient time to attach fully. If you are worried about this, tie the plant on with twine and lastly tie a few pieces of wire (not copper) around the plant and its mount, just to be sure. The wire can easily be cut off later.

Using round cable staples is a fantastic method for attaching bromeliads to trees outdoors, because you can find them in different sizes and the round shape conforms to the stem. The staples will last long enough for the plant to attach itself, are almost invisible, and normally you will need to use only two or three per plant. The only downside is that they can damage the plant if you use a staple which too small, and it cuts into the stem. The staples will rust away naturally but the rust doesn’t seem to harm the plant at all.

Fishing line is commonly used as a way to mount bromeliads, but many bromeliad growers do not recommend it because, although it is very strong and hides well, it will not disintegrate, and unless removed, will last for life. This can create problems as the plants grow and spread, potentially cutting into the stem and preventing other pups from attaching. Fishing line is also not elastic, so it will not shrink like twine does with the stem when it gets dehydrated, and just this little movement can lengthen the time to attach by months.

A non-copper wire is also often used, and although it is strong and some wire may eventually disintegrate, it can be difficult to get the wire tight enough to hold the plant firmly without cutting into the stem, and like fishing line it is also not elastic, and can cause delays in attaching as the stem shrinks and swells.

Believe it or not Silicon Glue can also be used to successfully secure a plant tightly without the risk of damaging it. However, because the roots are not able to grow through the glue, and have to grow around it, this can create problems and lengthen the time it takes to attach. The glue can also be messy and unsightly. Never use hot glue as it will damage the plant and could possibly kill it.

Select a bromeliad that is small enough to be supported only by its stem, as this will allow the roots to grow with the plant, and the plant will attach much easier. Plants which are too large will be top heavy and will not attach easily. Remove any dead leaves or flowers from the plant, and if it was growing in soil wash all the soil off, then prune the roots back as much as possible. This allows the bromeliad to spend energy growing new roots which will attach easier. If you are taking a new cutting to mount, make sure to get enough of the stem in order to give you more area to work with as you attach it.

Wrap the roots with some sphagnum moss, and find a nice nook in your driftwood or rock to tuck the root system into. Hold the bromeliad in place – here is where it helps if there are two of you, one to hold the plant in place while the other ties it down, but it can be done alone. Next, take some strong twine and wrap it around your bromeliad and the driftwood until the plant is held down firmly, but not so tight as to damage the plant.

Repeat these steps using moss and twine until you have fastened all the bromeliads to the mounting material, then water the plants thoroughly, using a soft spray of water. Place your new bromeliad display in a location that gets plenty of light and check the plants daily, watering as required.

It can take anywhere from 1 to 6 months for bromeliads to attach, depending on the type and the growing conditions. Watering and feeding as recommended, as well as keeping the plants free from debris like fallen leaves or twigs, will all help the roots grow quicker and stronger. Once the plants have fastened their roots the wire can be cut and removed, but if you have used twine it can be left to disintegrate on its own.

Remember that mounted bromeliads require higher humidity and more frequent watering than potted plants, and in dry climates, many will benefit from a layer of moss, and frequent misting of the leaves with water.

Bromeliads in a rock garden Image by Lei Sheldon from PixabayBromeliads in a rock garden Image by Lei Sheldon from PixabayPropagation:

Propagation of bromeliads which are terrestrial and which form large clumps is seldom necessary, but you may wish to propagate to plant in other areas of the garden, and some bromeliads may look best when grown as single plants, so the pups are removed and established on their own. Propagation can be carried out in two ways, by vegetative offsets, or by seeds, but vegetative propagation is the easiest way. However, vegetative propagation does not apply to all bromeliads, for example some species of Tillandsia species do not pup at all, but produce lots of seeds to carry on the species. Propagating from seed  is such a broad topic that its beyond the scope of this article, so seek advice from bromeliad societies or experienced growers.

Bromeliads mature and bloom over differing time periods, depending on the type grown, maturing within one year or many years, but sometimes stress, or a strong change in conditions may trigger premature flowering, especially with Neoregelias. With only a few rare exceptions, bromeliads only flower once and then the plant will slowly start to die. It will however, produce one or several new “offsets” or “pups”. These baby plants will feed off the mother plant until they are large enough to set roots and survive as a separate plant. The mother may even survive long enough to birth a generation or two before finally dying.

Basically all pups can be removed either by cutting or pulling them gently off the mother plant, and as a general rule, wait until the pup is around a third to half the size of the mother before removing it. The pup should also have a firm, brown base - if it feels ‘soft’, leave it for a bit longer. Pups will grow much faster when still attached, so the longer they are left on, the better.

The critical point to remember when removing any type of pup is not to cut into or damage the soft white tissue in the base of the mother plant, or the stem of the pup, as this is the ‘live’ growing tissue that forms roots and leaves. Rotting and/or infection of the base or centre of the plant may occur if it is damaged, or the plant may take a long time to recover, so take extreme care.

There are four main types of pups you will have to deal with, namely:

“Basal pups” are produced by a great number of bromeliads near the base of the plant, and inside the sheath of a leaf. When these are large enough, they can be gently tugged or cut off of the mother plant.

“Stoloniferous pups” are grown by some terrestrial bromeliads like the genera Cryptanthus and Orthophytum. These grow long stolons, or runners, which are slender stems that grow horizontally along the ground, giving rise to roots and aerial (vertical) branches at specialized points called nodes. Once they are a good size they can be cut off with secateurs.

Others bear what are called “axial pups” on top of the flowering stems of the mother, and once the pups are large enough they are removed in the same way as for other bromeliads.

“Adventitious” pups are produced by some, but mainly in the Vriesea and Alcantarea genera. These are tiny adventitious or ‘grass’ pups from the basal area. This normally occurs when the mother plant is very young and sometimes these are the only pups the plant will have. Some growers advocate that it’s best to remove these grass pups when they are quite small, approximately 8 to 12cm tall.

Plant the pups into small individual plant pots filled with a fine soil mixture, or palm peat, mist spray them down so the soil is moist, and place them in a warm and sheltered area  where they can enjoy bright indirect light, but remember they require less light than full grown, mature bromeliads. Be sure to keep the new plants watered but it is often best to keep the potting medium a bit on the dry side rather than too moist, as over watering bromeliad pups can cause rotting at the base of the plant, which could lead to death. Fertilise regularly, until the pups are big enough to be planted into their permanent positions.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

If bromeliads are grown correctly and are not stressed, they have relatively few problems with pests or diseases. And if you do need to spray, be aware that, just like ferns, some species are more sensitive than others to certain sprays, and some types of insecticides and fungicides are not recommended at all for use on bromeliads. It is also always recommended that you test any new product you are using on a small portion of a leaf, and wait to see if it has adverse effects on the plant before going ahead and spraying the entire plant or collection.

Because bromeliads are sensitive to copper, copper-based fungicides are not recommended.  Try Margaret Roberts Organic Fungicide which contains organic plant acids.

A new product, called “All Per-Plus “ has been introduced to the gardening industry in South Africa, and this 100% organic solution for insect and fungal problems sounds fantastic and is safe for humans, plants, and pets, and can be used indoors and outdoors from start until harvest. I am sure it would be safe to use on bromeliads, and it can be used as foliage spray, or as a soil drench to kill the eggs of unwanted insects in the soil, or root rot. Best of all, it does not affect any beneficial bacteria within the soil. It is recommended to use for: powdery mildew, fungus gnats, root rot, spider mites and their eggs, russet mites and their eggs, leaf miners, mealybugs, white flies, thrips, aphids and many more. It is available from plantliving.co.za – click here to read more

Bomeliads can also be adversely affected by oil-based insecticides, and mineral oils and vegetable oils like canola and neem are not recommended. Treatments for the most common insect problems affecting bromeliads recommend using an organic insecticidal soap or a systemic insecticide. Thrips, like aphids and red spider mites feed on the soft tissues of the plant, or suck out the sugary juices, and because they all reproduce quickly, in order to break their breeding cycle, it is important that they are quickly controlled, and repeat treatments are applied.

Organic insecticidal soaps and systemic insecticide treatments are also recommended for mealybugs and scale insects.

Mealybugs are one of the most common bromeliad pests. They are soft bodied insects that develop in masses and their waxy coating and waxy egg sacks give their infestations a cottony appearance. Mealybugs cause damage to leaves and flower parts by sucking out the sugary juices from the plant. Mealybugs can also hide in the roots, so if your plant experiences a sudden unexplainable decline in health, check for cottony masses in the roots. To avoid root mealybug infestations always use clean potting mediums and containers.

Scale is also a significant pest of bromeliads, and can be found both on indoor and outdoor plants. The most common scales found are the ‘flyspeck’ and the ‘palm scale’. The ‘flyspeck’ scale appears as tiny, hard black dots on the leaves and the ‘palm’ as a softer grey or beige dot. The ovals are the hard shield around the adult scale. Scale can be managed by removing the adult by hand or with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol. Wash the plant thoroughly after removing adult scale to ensure that any eggs are also removed.

Snails and slugs can be controlled by picking them off by hand, by using snail traps, or by sprinkling organic snail pellets around, not on the plants.

Many problems commonly attributed to diseases of bromeliads are the result of unfavourable growing conditions, and if the correct cultural practices are applied, professional bromeliad growers find the plants to be relatively pathogen free.

Bad potting mix and overwatering can cause many bromeliads to rot, and plants subjected to mechanical injury, insects, or sunburn may be invaded by one of many fungi.

Phytyophthera cinnamomi is a fungus that can be found in garden and potting soils and is the organism responsible for many cases of bromeliad rot. It is naturally kept at bay by a parasitic fungus called, Trichoderma, and the problem occurs when the air loving Trichoderma is killed off by lack of oxygen. Overwatering your bromeliad and allowing the potting mix to remain wet can stifle the oxygen level in the soil which smothers the helpful Trichoderma.

If the plant is watered excessively at low temperatures, rot may occur. Signs of crown rot include an unpleasant odour emitting from the centre of the plant, and a crown which appears brown and soggy, and leaves falling off with a gentle tug. It is best to remove and destroy infected plants.

Helminthosporium leaf spot is another fungal disease caused by the organism Exserohilum rostratum. The spots first appear yellow and blister like, and as the infection develops the spots enlarge and become sunken and brown. A yellow border may still appear around the outer edge of the spot. In advanced stages, leaves will begin to collapse and turn brown, hanging limply from the plant.

Rust disease appears as rust coloured, liquid filled blisters on the underside of the bromeliad’s leaves. The blisters will eventually make their way through the leaves, showing as a white or light-yellow spot when viewed from the topside.

Warning:

Bromeliads are non-toxic to humans, cats and dogs, but some species may be best kept out of the reach of children due to potential allergic reactions. And, as is the case with most houseplants, ingestion can lead to irritation and indigestion, so keep this plant out of the reach of pets and children.