plant of the month
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Tillandsia spp. (til-LAND-zee-uh)
Aechmea: Air pine, Living
vase, Silver vase, Urn plant
Billbergia: Vase plant,
Queen’s tears, Friendship plant, Fool-proof plant, Rainbow plant
Cryptanthus: Earth star,
Starfish plant, Silver star, Zebra plant
Guzmania: Scarlet star,
bromeliad, Heart-of-flame, Crimson cup, Fingernail plant,
Cartwheel plant, Marble plant
Tillandsia: Air plant,
Vriesea: Flaming sword,
Painted feathers, Lobster claws, Bromeliad king, Zebra bromeliad
Bromeliads, from the family Bromeliaceae (bro-mel-ee-AY-see-ay),
are a large and diverse group of plants known for their exotic
blooms and ornamental foliage. They come in a range of sizes
from miniatures to giants.
Bloom colors vary depending on genus but include red, pink,
burgundy, yellow, green and violet. Leaves can be light green to
dark green; gray-green; green with ivory edges or stripes; or
red, pink and green striped.
Bromeliad blooms can last for several weeks to several months,
depending on plant type and the care and handling the plants
receive. However, after bromeliad blooms fade, the plants start
to die, often producing offsets (pups) at their bases (see
Bromeliads are available year-round.
in-store and consumer care
Most bromeliads do best in bright locations but out of direct
sunlight, which can burn foliage and blooms. Ananas and
Cryptanthus, however, can thrive in full sun, as long as
they’re introduced to it slowly. Other types—those with “soft”
leaves—can tolerate lower-light conditions. Remember it this
way: Soft leaves, soft light; stiff leaves, bright light.
Bromeliads’ water requirements vary by genus, but most don’t
need much. With bromeliads that have a center “cup,” or “vase,”
formed by a rosette of leaves, let the potting medium dry out
completely between waterings, then saturate it, and enable the
water to drain quickly. Use distilled water or
addition, always keep a small amount of distilled water or
rainwater in the central cup, emptying it and adding fresh water
every 10 to 30 days. Too much water in the cup can cause the
base of a flower spike to rot.
With “noncup” types of bromeliads, keep the potting medium more
consistently moist but not wet; be careful to not overwater. Air
plants (Tillandsias) require no watering at all—except in
dry, arid environments, where only an occasional misting is
Indoors, bromeliads do best in temperate environments (65 F to
75 F). Never subject them to temperatures below 60 F for
extended periods. Guzmanias and Vrieseas dislike
temperatures above 80 F, but Ananases and Tillandsias
thrive in higher temperatures. Temperatures of 75 F and higher
are required for bromeliads to produce blooms.
Bromeliads grow better when fed regularly in the summer.
Fertilize plants with a liquid, all-purpose plant food diluted
to half the regular strength. Spray the plant food onto the
leaves, pour a bit into the cup and dribble a small amount into
the soil. Using too much plant food can damage these plants
because most contain high levels of salts.
Bromeliads require a light, quickly draining soil mixture, such
as a mixture of peat moss, sand or perlite, and chopped and decomposed tree bark or pine needles. You also can use an orchid
or cactus potting mix.
This is rarely necessary because bromeliads have small root
systems, and most grow best when kept in small pots. When
planting offsets (see “Reblooming/ Propagation,”
next), use the correct potting medium (see “Potting
Medium,” above), and do not plant them too deeply.
Most bromeliads flower only once in indoor home/office
conditions. After flowering, however, they may produce offsets
(pups) at their bases. When the offsets are at least six months
old and one-third to one-half the size of the parent plant, they
can be cut, with a sterile knife, from the parent plant and
potted into a lightly moist sand/peat-moss mixture or an orchid
or cactus soil mix. If environmental conditions are right, you
can induce the offsets to flower by exposing them to ethylene
gas: Place each plant into a clear plastic bag, with one or two
apples; seal the bag; and let it stand for two to four days at
room temperature. You may have to wait six weeks or so to find
out if the treatment worked.
Ethylene gas is not detrimental to bromeliads; in fact, it is
required to stimulate flowering.
Mealybugs and scale insects are occasional problems. Scale
insects cause brown discs on leaves. Mealybugs cause white
cottony-looking patches on leaves.
FALLING AND YELLOWING
Plants are too dry; too much sunlight.
BROWN LEAF TIPS
Insufficient humidity; repeated drying out: too-high
temperatures; no water in cup; use of hard water.
BROWN SPOTS ON LEAVES
Sunburn due to exposure to direct sunlight.
FLOWER SPIKES ROT AT BASE
Too much water in cup.
PLANTS DIE OR ROT AT BASE
Overwatering; insufficient air circulation.
Overwatering; insufficient humidity.
PLANTS DO NOT BLOOM
Insufficient light; too young. Most bromeliads do not bloom
until they are at least three years old.
OFFSETS DIE WITHOUT ROOTING
Offsets taken from parent plant and planted when too young;
WHAT’S IN A NAME
Most bromeliads are native to the tropical regions of
Central America and South America—particularly the rain
forests. The majority of types are indigenous to Brazil.
IN THE AIR
Most bromeliads are classified as “epiphytes,” meaning
they grow on trees or elevated supports, obtaining water
and nutrients from the air through their leaves, cups
and roots; they do not damage the support plant. Others
are “terrestrial,” sinking their roots into the forest
floor, and still others are “saxicolous,” meaning they
grow on rocks, with their roots penetrating cracks and
fissures to locate moisture and nutrients.
COMING OF AGE
bromeliads do not bloom until they are at least three
Some information provided
Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Bromeliad Society International,
Chain of Life Network® ,
Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The, by Barbara
House Plant Expert, The, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
Society of American Florists’ Flower & Plant Care manual
Photos: The John Henry Company