Houseplant of the Week: Bromeliad

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The Bromeliad family of plants is amazingly diverse, with eight botanical subfamilies and almost 3,600 known species. There are bromeliads that grow up to 50 feet tall (the puya raimondii) and bromeliads that you can eat (ananas comosus, better known as the pineapple).

But today we are focused on those species of bromeliads that can be grown indoors as a striking – and not to hard to maintain – houseplant.

Here’s the really interesting thing about bromeliads – they typically only flower once in their lifetimes. The colorful beauty of the plant is actually its leaves, or bracts, that are often mistaken for flowers. A bromeliad grows by added new leaves to the center of the plant. At some point, the center will become crowded and new leaves will no longer have room to form. The plant then starts producing “pups,” also known as offsets.

Caring for Your Bromeliad

Bromeliads have few needs and very few problem pests, so with good maintenance, you can enjoy one in your home or office year round.

  • Potting – This may be the most complicated part of having a bromeliad. They can be potted in a variety of media – in addition to traditional pots, you can also have an epiphytic or “air” plant, meaning it grows on a rock, tree bark or is somehow mounted. If you are potting your plant, don’t just use potting soil. It’s too dense and doesn’t allow for the drainage bromeliads need. You can purchase soil specific to bromeliads, or make your own that’s a mix of soil, perlite and some sort of bark, like fine fir bark, orchid bark or pine bark nuggets.
  • Light – For the most part, bromeliads thrive in bright, sunny spaces, but keep your plant away from direct sunlight for an extended period of time, as it can damage the leaves.
  • Water and Humidity – Bromeliads don’t like overwatering (they’ve adapted to withstand drought), but they do love their humidity.
    • For plants in a potting medium, soak it so that the water runs from the drainage holes. Then, don’t water the bromeliad again until at least the top two inches of potting media are dry. Any more and you could be asking for root rot.
    • If you have an air plant variety (living on a rock or tree bark instead of being planted), you just need to mist it regularly to keep it moist.
    • All bromeliads like about 60% humidity, which is difficult to maintain in our dry mountain desert. Regular misting or a humidity tray can help.
  • Fertilizing – Bromeliads don’t need a lot of food, but you’ll want to occasionally use a water-soluble fertilizer. Air plants versions of bromeliads can benefit from a liquid fertilizer diluted (about one-quarter to one-half strength), which you can then spray onto the plant.