Live indoor plants (aka houseplants) have been making a comeback, and bromeliads are part of that trend.
What are bromeliads? They are a large group of plants primarily native to South and North America. Like orchids, many bromeliads are epiphytes.
This means they grow on the surface of tree trunks, branches, and even rocks. Using their roots mostly for holding onto a tree or rock for support, epiphytes get their water and nutrients via their leaves.
Not all bromeliads are epiphytes. Some are terrestrial plants that absorb water and nutrients through their roots growing in soil. One well known terrestrial bromeliad is the pineapple.
Certain bromeliads make good houseplants because they can survive with very little light. However, give them lots of indirect sunlight and they will grow and thrive. For indoor growing, epiphytic bromeliads are usually potted in a well-drained media that does not pack down, such as perlite, coarse sand, small gravel or fir bark.
The base of the plant should never be below the level of the potting mix, and the mix should be kept slightly moist. Bromeliads, especially those with soft leaves, do best with higher humidity, so misting them every few days is recommended.
One type of epiphytic bromeliads popular right now are the Tillandsia, also called “air plants.” These are being sold in local craft and garden stores for creating charming dish and hanging gardens.
Live Trends Designs, a home decor design and marketing company, has plans to market small Tillandsia in necklaces, living lockets, and a unique container where the Tillandsia planted at the top serves as the wild hair of a fanciful character.
Most Tillandsia are blue-gray or greenish-gray in color because their hard, wiry, twisted leaves are covered with silvery scales. These scales absorb the water and nutrients needed by the plants.
This is why Tillandsia should be misted every two to three days or submerged in room-temperature water for 30 minutes every 7 to 10 days.
Guzmania, also known as living vases or air pines, are another type of epiphytic bromeliad. They have leaves that form a rosette, but what makes them worthy of attention are the brightly colored, long-lasting flower bracts — red, orange or pink — that develop in the center of the plant as part of the flower spike. These eye-catching flower spikes last two to four months.
I have seen Guzmania for sale in the indoor plants sections of local garden and hardware stores. I know a gardener who purchased one with a bright orange flower spike and planted it as the tall “thriller” in a container garden along with a variety of green indoor plants. The Guzmania coordinates perfectly with the orange ceramic container in which the garden is planted.
Cryptanthus is another type of bromeliad that is likely to become popular for use in interior plant designs. They are sometimes called “earth stars” because of the tight whorl their flattened leaves create. Many have interesting patterned leaves with bands or stripes of green, silver, brown, white, bronze, black, yellow, orange, pink, or bright rose.
Bullis Bromeliads (bullisbrom.com) recently introduced ‘Abzolute Zero,’ a remarkable Cryptanthus with black and white banded leaves. This will be perfect for incorporating into the gray dominated interior designs that are popular right now. Cryptanthus are terrestrial bromeliads that are best grown in a rich potting soil that is kept slightly moist.
I would not be surprised to see more and more bromeliads being marketed to consumers as easy-care indoor plants. Maybe we will even see dwarf pineapple (Ananas nanus) with thumb-sized pineapples become part of this bromeliad trend.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.