Bromeliads are a new world plant, with the exception of Pitcairnia feliciana. This Bromeliad grows in west Central Africa near the Atlantic Ocean. There is considerable debate about how and or why this single example is represented so far from all the rest of this vast family.
It was found a little over a hundred years ago but was not identified or studied until collected specimens were recently evaluated.
Gerald Krulik, in his article The Bromeliad Nobody Knows, challenges rare plant collectors to find any now growing as a native plant in Guinea.
Bromeliads are very easy to grow for the most part. It is not uncommon to find plants growing in office buildings, malls and other indoor areas. Most have thick leaves. This doesn’t diminish their ability to absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. In fact, those that are epiphytes depend on the leaves for their source of moisture and nutrients.
The typical growth habit is for new leaves to whorl out of the growing crown. Many in this group have leaves that tend to overlap. This allows for pools of water to collect in the center of the plant. These micro water environments create homes for small animals to live and grow.
All manner of life can be found in these little pools. Amphibians, for example, have enough water for tadpoles to grow. These tiny pools of water are relatively protective, making them ideal for small life forms. A CalTech University post lists the following occupants of one Bromeliad: “One bromeliad was found to contain several small beetles, crane flies, earwigs, a frog, a cockroach, spiders, fly larvae, a millipede, a scorpion, woodlice and an earthworm!”
Types of Bromeliads
Bromeliad species are about equally divided between epiphytes or those types of plants that have few or no roots and terrestrial. The epiphytes can be found clinging to trees. They are not parasitic. Their wiry roots are few in number and are strong enough to anchor the plant to the tree. One epiphyte in the southern US commonly known as Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) dangles from the branches of trees. Some in South America often grow on power lines as an alternate modern scaffold.
Terrestrial Bromeliads produce roots that grow similarly to normal garden perennials. Some like the Billbergia nutans commonly known as Queen’s Tears or Friendship Plant have roots that are quite strong. This plant will break a normal clay container when it becomes pot bound. Sturdy plastic containers are recommended. In fact, dividing this plant can be challenge because it is so difficult to cut through the roots.
There is only one edible Bromeliad. This is the Pineapple.
The scientific name for the pineapple is Ananas comosus. This plant has been introduced to all tropical locations around the world since Christopher Columbus first brought it to Spain when he returned from his second voyage in 1493, according to the International Bromeliad Society.
Cooks have found that cooking with pineapple produces tender meat. This is because of the protein dissolving compound known as bromilin. Bromilin is a compound commonly found in Bromeliads. Remember the collected water serves as a valuable source of moisture as well as nutrients. No source claims these plants are carnivorous.
Terrestrial Bromeliads are quite easy to grow, but there is some variability. They like air temperatures that we like. Using a porous organic rich potting media is preferred. Maintaining a moist but not soggy wet container is optimal. These plants originated in moist, humid organic rich areas and that is easy to reproduce in most homes and businesses. A very dilute fertilizer can be applied to the standing water in the central pool.
Epiphyte types can be a bit more difficult to grow. These require an organic structure the few roots can cling to easily. The natural habitat for these is in humid areas that experience frequent brief rain showers. This is important to remember. Since the bark of trees will dry out quickly, these plants will need frequent watering to survive. Light is another concern. Epiphytes need strong often full sun. The best location for these plants is in a south facing kitchen window directly above the sink or in a bathroom under a skylight. These areas of the home have the best humidity. Be sure to moisten the anchor wood as well as the plant itself.
Most of these plants reproduce through suckers at the base of the parent plant called pups. Bromeliads will produce these after flowering, generally between 1 and 2 pups. Once a parent plant flowers it will linger until the pups are large enough to care for themselves. The older plants will then die.
Herbaceous perennials in your garden behave the same way. We don’t notice this because of winter die off. The reemergence in spring of new growth seems as though it is the same plant re-blooming when it is actually a sucker.
Another way for this plant to reproduce is the way pineapple can reproduce; via fruiting stalk.
Pineapples and some others have a fruiting stalk. The stalk will eventually bend over. The pup on the end will root, relying on the fruit for moisture and nutrients until established. This is an alternate method of propagation for Pineapples as they produce pups at the base too.
The third way is to grow from seed. Seeds can be difficult to find, and they can be hard to sprout. Sometimes special circumstances must be followed to encourage germination. While this is an option for propagation, sourcing divisions will be a better option for the vast majority of growers. Consulting an expert for advice and seed is advised.
An educational research paper published in 2004 by the University of Chicago and written by Thomas J. Givnish along with a large collaboration of scholars around the country postulates in a single paragraph in the conclusion that Pitcairnia Feliciana, the single known Bromeliad found in Guinea, may have been the result of a rare reversal of equatorial winds that carried the wing-like seed over the ocean.
Societies, Sources and Conclusion
These remarkably easy-to-grow plants are under utilized in most homes. Part of the reason is the substantial leaves can have sharp edges. Some like the Pineapple have a barbed tip. Some like those purchased from Walt Disney, Orlando, FL gift shop are serrated along the entire length of the leaf. Removing Bromeliads from the reach of small children may be necessary.
There are so many of Bromeliads to choose from that finding one for any location, situation, bloom or growth habit will not be difficult. It may be much more difficult to find vendors that sell chosen cultivars. Accessing the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies website will allow one access to hundreds of images. Their thorough species and subspecies list will provide hours of interesting viewing. Be sure you have plenty of time and data usage to search their archive.
The International Bromeliad Society has links for quality vendors. Remember that Bromeliads require frost free and often tropical growing temperatures. Save your orders until shipping can happen during frost free times. A good question to ask vendors is the proper way to ship. A problem that can result growing Pineapples from store bought fruit is that commercial shipping frequently utilizes air cargo transportation. These spaces on planes are unheated and can expose Pineapples to temperatures that can affect the pup on the top. Overnight shipping just may not be a viable option.
Bromeliads for Indoor Gardens
These plants are pest proof for northern indoor gardeners. Color and bloom last for a considerable time which allows you to enjoy them longer. These will soon become popular plants for you to grow and share with friends when they have multiplied. Some of these reproduce somewhat slowly which means you will have a patient fan waiting for their start long enough to develop a close friendship. Now is the time to consider eliminating a knick knack and replacing it with a versatile interesting plant that will encourage conversation for years to come.
So, begin to focus on Bromeliads in public places. You will find them everywhere. It will give you a chance to decide on the size and type you will want to grow in your own home. Most of these will come from commercial plant care businesses. These local businesses may also be able to help you to understand the care and choice you will want to make.