Bromeliads are members of the Bromeliaceae plant family. They typically have striking, sword-shaped leaves and a bright, unusual-looking bloom, which is actually a bract surrounding an insignificant flower. They hail from tropical rainforests, where they grow naturally on the bark of trees, rather than in the ground. Their roots are used to grip on to their host, and they get moisture from a central 'tank' or 'vase' in the middle of the rosette of leaves that fills with water whenever it rains. In the wild, frogs sometimes raise their young in these tanks.
In the UK, bromeliads are grown as house plants. The most famous member of the bromeliad family is the pineapple (Ananas comosus), which can be grown indoors, although the fruit is not edible. Other bromeliads include the urn plant, Aechmea fasciata, the flaming sword plant, Vriesea splendens and the quill plant, Tillandsia (tiny air plants are also tillandsias).
Guzmanias are tall, with pineapple-like flowers, while Billbergia nutans is known as 'queen's tears' as the pink flowers drip with nectar when touched or moved. Neoregelia carolinae f. tricolor is known as the tri-colour blushing bromeliad as the centre of its rosette of bold foliage turns pink-red (blushes) before it flowers. Cryptanthus are known as 'earth stars' thanks to their star-shaped foliage.
Once bromeliads have bloomed, they die back, so they're not long-lived house plants. They produce new plants at the base, however, which can be potted up and grown on.
Bromeliads are easy to care for so are a good choice for beginners.
How to grow bromeliads
Bromeliads do best in a warm room with plenty of bright light. They need watering via their central 'vase', which should be kept topped up at all times. They're sensitive to the chemicals in tap water, so ideally use collected rainwater if possible. Alternatively, leave tap water standing for 24 hours so that some of the chemicals can escape as gases, or boil and cool tap water. The plant will die back when it has flowered, but it should produce new plants, called 'pups', at the base, which can be potted up to grow into new plants. Bromeliads like humidity so moist the leaves regularly.
More on growing tropical plants:
- 11 terrarium ideas
- Plants for a jungle-style border
- 10 exotic orchids to grow
- How to get an orchid to flower again
Growing bromeliads: jump links
- Where to grow bromeliads
- How to care for bromeliads
- How to propagate bromeliads
- Bromeliad problem-solving
- Types of bromeliad to grow
Where to grow a bromeliad
Most bromeliads thrive in a warm room that gets plenty of bright light – they need a temperature of around 20°C to flower. Once the plant is blooming, a slightly lower temperature will help it last longer. A bright and steamy bathroom is the perfect home, mimicking the warm, moist, tropical habitats that many bromeliads grow in naturally. Bromeliads also do well in a conservatory, though the leaves may scorch on the hottest summer days. Avoid placing bromeliads near radiators as these can burn the leaves.
How to plant a bromeliad
Your bromeliad plant should be fine in the pot that you bought it in, as it will die back once it has finished flowering. If you want to repot it, a 50:50 mix of peat-free, multi-purpose compost and orchid compost is ideal.
Caring for a bromeliad
Bromeliads are watered in a different way to other house plants, via a central 'tank' in the middle of the rosette of leaves. Use rainwater if possible, or tap water that has been boiled and cooled or left to stand for 24 hours. Every few weeks, empty the rosette by turning the plant upside down and refilling with fresh water. This will avoid a build up of bacteria. The compost should also be watered, but not much – simply ensure it never dries out fully.
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Add a house plant fertiliser when watering the rosette, though use it at half strength, and only feed during the spring and summer months.
In summer, keep the compost just moist. In winter, water only when the compost has dried out.
Stand the plants on trays of moist gravel, or mist regularly. In summer, keep them well ventilated and consider moving them outside to a shady spot over the warmest months.
How to propagate a bromeliad
An unusual characteristic of bromeliads is that their central rosette will often die after flowering. After this happens, the plant will produce several babies at its base. The baby plants can be left in the original pot, and they can also be divided into more plants. When dividing bromeliads, it's best to wait until the babies are at least 10-15cm long.
Lift the main plant out of its pot to remove the individual baby plants, being careful not to damage any roots attached to the new plants. Pot each of the baby plants in peat-free, house plant compost then water both the compost and the rosette. Rooting takes around a month. Alternatively, you can wait until the main plant begins to die off, then cut it out and leave the babies to grow where they are. The new plants may take several years to flower again.
Growing bromeliads: problem solving
If the bract or flower dies back, this is normal – bromeliads die back after flowering. Look out for new baby plants at the base, which can be potted up and grown on.
Brown leaf tips may be due to dry air, or watering with hard water.
Yellow leaves may indicate that the plant has outgrown its container.
Pale leaves mean the plant is in too much direct sunlight, or the air is too dry.
Soggy brown leaves are caused by crown or root rot, due to overwatering.
Occasionally bromeliads can attract mealybug, scale and spider mites. The first two are slow-moving insects that feed on sap and often the first symptom you’ll spot is stickiness on the leaves or nearby surfaces. As the insects feed, they release sugary sap, which becomes sticky and can attract black sooty mould. The best way to control these pests is to wipe them off manually with a damp cloth.
Tiny red spider mites are so small that they’re difficult to see. Look out for fine webbing between the leaves and yellow mottling on the surfaces. Mites are hard to control and few insecticides will work, but as they dislike a humid atmosphere, it’s worth spraying your plants with water and standing them on a tray filled with damp gravel to increase humidity. You can also try organic sprays containing plant oils.
Advice for buying bromeliads
- You can find bromeliads at the garden centre and also in florist's shops. But for the best range, buy at a specialist house plant retailer or online
- Buy a plant with a bract that's just beginning to show – this means it will last longer in your home
- Bear in mind that while your bromeliad will bloom for many months, it will die back after this, so it's a shortlived house plant. You can, however, pot up the baby plants at the base
- Check that you have the right spot for a bromeliad – it likes a bright spot. It will need watering with filtered or distilled water or rainwater
Where to buy bromeliads online
Varieties of bromeliad to grow
Aechmea primera has a silver rosette that contrasts with its sugar-pink bract.
- Height x Spread: 50cm x 50cm
Aechmea 'Blue Rain' has neon pink and blue flowers and bright green, strap-like foliage.
- H x S: 40cm x 30cm
Tillandsia cyanea 'Pink Quill' has a pretty, flat bract of pale pink and violet flowers in spring or autumn.
- H x S: 20cm x 20cm
Vriesea 'Davine' has an eye-catching scarlet and yellow swordlike spike.
- H x S: 45cm x 30cm
Guzmania 'Fiero Orange' has a striking bract that is a bright orange-red.
- H x S: 60cm x 30cm
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