I love the underdogs. I have a thing for the hidden gem, precariously tucked away in the heart of the monster. But it isn’t that simple. Bromeliads aren’t your typical tropical, straightforward monsters with little gemmy hearts. But they aren’t difficult, either. Today I will tell you about my journey in Bromeliad husbandry and you will be forever changed, if you don’t already like these. STICK AROUND, I promise you know or might even HAVE a Bromeliad in your home right now! And you will know how to propagate one!
Did you KNOW??? You might have one in your fridge perhaps, or sitting on your counter. Yes, that Pineapple is a Bromeliad! Good, now you are engaged, and can continue, as you have a previously established relationship with Bromeliads. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you about how to propagate the top of a pineapple. I’m a little more nitty gritty than that!
You probably snatched up a Bromeliad at some point in your life, for a gift, or as an impulse buy. It had a bright-looking lollipop type flower(Actually, that brilliant tower in the center is a specialized structure that houses the tinier flowers within). It might have been on a clearance rack, despite still being in bloom. They are prized for being long-time bloomers, but I discover they outlive their location on the sales shelf, and will soon be cast off into clearance purgatory, waiting for someone to take it home for its retirement.
Now, my journey in Bromeliad-keeping began with a Billbergia, which I’ve also been told has been called a friendship plant. I thought it was kind of ugly, but if you have just the right conditions, it WILL bloom. And it did. Slowly, it began to exude some neon pink bud, which snaked out of the vase, every day, it topped itself in spectacular display. The pink bud opened, and then there were purple flowers inside. And then they opened. And then, the yellow filaments inside? Well, THEY opened, curled and there it stood. I was won over for good.
The next bromeliads I got were a pineapple, which my mother gave to me, while still in fruit, as she didn’t really know what to do with it next (neither did I, it was a fruit fly magnet). And then later, cryptanthus, and a mighty Aechmea.
I’ve gotten, and lost many Bromeliads. This is an unforgettable truth about them. You can’t take one home, put it in the window and name it George. George will one day, if he hasn’t already, bloom, for a long time mind you, become your verdant sweetheart, and then? George will die. You could simply throw him away, or take notice that George has left behind a tiny memory: A pup. This is the most common way he reproduces, and probably why we give Bromeliads a nickname of the friendship plant. My Billbergia is a clump of pups, but the parent is a withered husk. Don’t be discouraged by this fact. They aren’t 100% temporary, if you are willing to put your own share of effort into it. It’s a great hands-on plant for someone who likes something more interactive and exotic.
The bloom above is a Billbergia. It began as a take-home from school. That plant is long gone, but this is a pup, and probably the current clump is about 4 generations old. You can see the original plant inside, but unless I take it out and separate everyone, it is going to stay there. It will not hurt anything.
The Cryptanthus was a little clearance buddy from a nursery. This guy has been kept in a bright window all its life, and has rewarded us with beautiful coloration. I’ve had other Cryptanthus, one I gave to a friend, the other perished, likely due to insufficient sunlight.
The Aechmea in this picture is actually two of them, the taller ones with stakes holding them upright (this was a division I did last year) It was most prized Bromeliad, before it perished to its inevitable life cycle. It has won me a plaque in a contest, and a ribbon, all without a single bloom. It was a real show stopper. Many people stopped me that day to ask what it was, and to tell me they had never seen one like that. The bloom is stunning and over-the-top, and is the logo flower of my home business, but I bought mine as a rescue, because I knew it would give me pups. I have two plants right now, the original was retired and now in the big garden in the sky. But not before leaving me a new pup!
The Pineapple was given to me by my mother. It’s a quiet little thing. The original has already died, and what you see is its pup. I never bothered to separate them. I’m hoping this is the year it will bloom.
Don’t ask me about my experiences with Air Plants (Tillandsia sp.) I have very bad luck and always forgot to mist them, resulting in imminent death. I’ll try again one day. Some Tillandsias will rebloom, however, and they take up very little room. I do recommend them, but don’t forget about them.
Now, on with some useful information:
In nature, you find Bromeliads in the trees, clinging to the crotches of branches, their vases collecting rainwater. Sometimes, you may find insects or amphibians residing within the vases. It’s a bit counter-intuitive, but most Bromeliads thrive when their vases are kept topped up, as this serves as a type of reservoir for them in nature, where the moisture isn’t always readily available in their roots.
Location: Most bromeliads prefer a bright to moderately bright home. Mine sit in a window on an old wooden spool with southwestern exposure, on a large table that I rotate every few days.
Temperatures: Mine have lived in a cool (15 degree) house in winter, and showed no stress. They are extremely versatile in terms of temperatures, and I believe some can tolerate cooler. But they are tropicals, so keep them indoors and cozy.
Watering: I mist them about once a day and I will top up their vases (except for the pineapple and Cryptanthus) as needed. The epiphytic types I will water whenever I think of it, which is pretty much once or twice a month, increasing the frequency in the summer. They do fine this way. The Cryptanthus and Pineapple are terrestrial Bromeliads, and I will water these more frequently. They would certainly benefit from a pebble tray as well as higher humidity.
Feeding: Rarely do I feed these. I might give them some water soluble fertilizer once every couple of weeks. They are not heavy feeders.
Placing Outside: You can do that with these plants if you want an exciting looking decor around your patio, but I will caution you against it, as they can be susceptible to mealybug and scale, which is the bane of my indoor plant collection’s existence. You don’t really want to bring them back in to infect your other plants in the fall.
Miscellaneous care facts I need to share:
– don’t rub the leaves of the variegated or striped varieties. These are similar (in my opinion) to a butterfly’s scales. Once you rub them off, they’re gone.
– Use extreme caution when touching or handling these plants. In case you didn’t discover already, many of them are armed with spines along their leaf margins. I call my Aechmea the ferocious one, as it was very interesting transporting it home with all those spines. Pineapples, guzmanias and tillandsias though? They’re perfectly safe to touch and you won’t get scratched.
– a helpful hint for anyone keeping these for the long term is that once the plant is finished, I will often write “R” on the tag to signify that it has already bloomed and has been “retired.” I watch these for pups and separate when they’re ready.
Propagation and division: Don’t bother with seeds unless you like a good challenge. I have some Puya seeds, and only got one to germinate so far, and it perished by the cat toppling it over many times. The easiest and most reliable way of propagation is by way of division! I decided to divide two types, side by side, for you to see how it’s done.
I would like to recommend types that are easiest for beginners, but honestly I feel they are all of the same difficulty level. If you are unsteady-handed I would suggest Guzmanias or Neoregelias, as their leaves are soft and safe. If you want something really special, look for Aechmeas. If you want something more mindful or interactive and hip to love, try a Tillandsia, just make sure you buy a misting bottle!
You will need:
Pots (I usually use 4” or 6” pots, don’t go too big or the plant may suffer from root rot)
A serrated pruning knife. Don’t criticize my steak knife!
Pruners to clip the old dead pieces
Gloves are reccommended
Bromeliad mix (my suggestion is a home made mix of 25% of Sunshine mix and 75% Orchid bark)
Stakes (optional) for stabilization.
Step 1: choose your victim. Always choose a plant whose pup is already 1/3 the size of the parent for the best chance of success. Fact: You are always the victim in the end.
Step 2: Unpot and examine roots and crowns for ideal places to cut. In this pic, you can see two pups and a dead parent in the center. You would cut between each plant.
Step 3: Carefully cut the pup(s) from the parent, using your serrated pruning knife.
Step 4: Repot pups in an appropriately sized pot. Note, I have chosen pots that are smaller than the overall span of the leaves. Their roots are not very big. As a result, I also suggest using stakes to stabilize the plant until it has taken root. Aechmeas are very top heavy.
Step 5: Give to your friends!
Step 6: The parent plant can either be discarded if it’s already dead, or you can keep it and enjoy it until it does die. You could use this one to enjoy outdoors in the summer, and discard at the end of the season. It doesn’t matter, all up to you.
You can also mount epiphytic Bromeliads on trees or branches, but I haven’t even attempted this successfully yet. I may one day try this, and I will make a post about it when it happens.
As an amateur, I had read somewhere that putting an apple in a bag with the plant will coax it into bloom. Don’t bother if it has already bloomed. They will only ever bloom once in most species, put forth a new pup, and then slowly decline into a dry clump of leaves, which the pup will overshadow in time. I haven’t tested this myself, but if anyone can confirm, please speak up!
Well, that’s all I have for today, I hope you enjoyed your crash course in Bromeliads. I love them, they are my specialty. People always think they are unusual and wonder why they are in my home. I love to talk about them. Give one a try. Now that you know how to divide one, you can grab one from the clearance rack with confidence! And if you kill it, don’t worry. I’ve done it accidentally many times, but I never give up. There is a Bromeliad out there that is ideal for your home.
Want more information? Here are some more places to find info:
http://www.bromeliads.info/ – FAQs, photos, and more.
There is also a great Bromeliads group on Facebook you can request to join that shares incredible photos of blooms. I am jealous of their gardens!
An inexpensive and quick read on Bromeliad care in book form: Bromeliads for Home and Garden by Jack Kramer. Lots of information and it is divided into sections based on genus.
I’m counting down the days till I’m in Cuba (12). Next week I’ll tell you all about the scramblin’ I’m doing in the garden. Today was a joke. Enjoy Otis in the snow.