Try The Bromeliads Indoors And Old New Plant

For many generations, the Bromeliaceae, or “air plants” as they are better known, have been treasured members of greenhouse anti-conservatory collections. 

It is only in the recent years of pot plant development when orchitis is sold like geraniums, and saintpaulias are found on every window sill, that the ornamental and artistic beauties of the pineapple family are coming into their own as plants for the everyday home, like the Chinese evergreen anti philodendron. 

Try BromeliadsPin

This is gratifying to every enthusiast of these one-time rarities of South America. Brazil is the homeland of most of the species of the Bromeliaceae, whose family name is in honor of Olaf Bromel, a Swedish plant scientist of the early days.

The outstanding member of the family is the common pineapple, which has grown all over the world for centuries. The pineapple was probably the first cultivated Bromeliad and was first grown in England in the 17th century. 

The writer has an interesting “Treatise on the Culture of the Pineapple and the Management of the Hothouse,” published in York, England, in the 17th, and others earlier. Culturing “pines,” as they were called, was a good project for England’s tanbark “stoves” 200 years ago.

In America

The Bromeliads are grown in shady gardens in Florida (fastened to trees), in the subtropical Gulf Coast area, and southern California.

They can withstand only light frost; some are tropical, so their geographical limit as outdoor plants is marked. 

The ubiquitous Spanish moss of the lower Southland, which festoons live oaks and magnolias, and even telephone wires and orange trees after a windstorm, is the most widely distributed “air plant.”

Some of the Bromels, as they are popularly called, are terrestrial and grow well in southern gardens. The pineapple is an example of a plant that was originally epiphytic (growing on trees in nature) but has adapted to ground culture. 

There are a dozen epiphytic species of the genus Tillatuhia, to which the commonest “air plants” of the Florida hammock jungles belong, two Catopsis species, and one Cnzmania listed as native Florida plants.

Florida residents frequently transplant these to their patios by fastening them to a piece of the limb on which they were found growing, and in partial shade, the plants thrive in these outdoor living rooms of the subtropics.

In the North

There have been collections of choice types of Brown Clouds in Missouri, Brooklyn, and New York Botanic Gardens have been objects of major interest for many years.

A few commercial firms have offered a limited selection of species and hybrids to fanciers. 

Now the commoner types, at least, are coming into the reach of the plant lover with a moderate purse. One can buy a dish garden with Bromels or small plants of a number of the more abundant but interesting species.

The wants and needs of a Bromeliad are simple and few. It will grow in almost any acid, porous, humus-type compost having good drainage. 

One of America’s leading experts and authorities on the family, Mulford B. Foster of Orlando, Fla., recommends a potting soil composed of one-half leaf mold and one-half sharp sand containing some chopped osmunda fiber or fern fiber, if possible. 

The writer has made an excellent potting medium with rotted leaf mold, loam, sand, and a little sifted peat or well-rotted cow manure.

The plants should be underpotted rather than overpotted, with 3-inch, 5-inch, and 6-inch pots being adequate for most types.

Among the genera usually found in house plant collections of the Bromels are Vriesea, Billbergia, Aechmea, Nidularium, Tillandsia, and Cryplanthus. 

There are truly succulent forms such as the Dyckias (like miniature century plants), Hechtia, Ananas, Neoglazovia, and several more or less rare ones, such as Pitcairnia, Wittrockia, Orthophytum, Streptokok, Quesnelia, Neoregeolia, along with others occasionally found in the catalogs of specialists.

Growing Bromeliads

The Bromels like part shade and do better with abundant light, although they may lie burned by the strong, direct sun through a glass window. In too-dark a situation, the plants will be etiolated and grow very long leaves. 

Most of the Bromeliads hold water in the base of the leaves, where a natural vase may be formed in some varieties.

In nature, large species will hold several quarts of water. As a result, they require little watering at the root in their pots, just enough to keep the soil slightly moist. 

Most of the plants’ feeding is done through the leaves, as in the case of the epiphytic orchids.

The plants should be potted firmly up to the base of the leaves. Several crocks in the bottom of the pot are good to ensure drainage.

A soft wiping with a damp cloth every week or two will remove dust and keep the plants from possible insect pests such as scale and mealybugs. They have few enemies, and with ordinary care, these seldom become serious. 

The plants grow slowly and increase by side shoots at the base, which may lie removed when well-grown and potted separately.

The older plants usually complete a cycle in one to three years, blooming, producing the off-shoots and gradually dying, and being replaced by a clump of subsequent suckers if these are not divided into a few more seasons. 

Culture Of Bromeliads

They are natives of the South American jungles and uplands, and most of them like a humid atmosphere.

As this is contrary to conditions prevalent in most American homes in the North in the winter, frequent light, soft water spraying with an atomizer or bulb sprayer, such as used for orchids, is highly beneficial. 

Their culture is as simple as any house plant’s, and their charm and grace are most rewarding and satisfying.

Various foliage of the many species runs the gamut of shades of red, green, and yellow, and the blooms are brilliant with various tones of red, blue, green, white, and yellow, as the ease may be.

Fundamental Plants of Bromeliad

The fundamental plants of a bromeliad collection are probably Billbergia nutans and B. pyramidalis (thyrsoidea)

The first is a small “air plant,” like a miniature pineapple top, which will grow and multiply thriftily in a 3-inch pot and bloom with a handsome display of red hornets and small blue-and-green dowers in midwinter. 

B. pyramidalis is grown in the ground as a decorative garden plant in the shade all over subtropical Florida and is also well adapted to pot culture.

It has graceful, yellowish, blue-green leaves in a flowing, spreading vase form and a brilliant red flower cluster. It has the popular name “pineapple lily.”


After the Billbergias, and there are many more fine species and hybrids of these, the budding collector usually turns to the Cryptanthus, — charming little plants of striking markings and small enough for a window shelf on the shady side. There are kinds with stripes running crosswise and others lengthways.

Aechmeas, Vriesias and Nidulariums

The Aechmeas, Vriesias, and Nidulariums are “Grecian Vase” treasures with classic flowing lines and a marvelous multiplicity of leaf colorings and patterns.

Some of these would be of value to modern textile designers, without a doubt. Mr. Foster has introduced several new and choice types, including Aechmea racinae, named after his wife, A. orlandiana, and others just as interesting.

Dr. Henry Xehrling wrote extensively about Bromeliads in horticultural articles recently republished in hook form.

Pursuing his fascinating anil enlightening studies will produce in the plant lover the most lively case of “Bromeliad fever,” as the experts call it. One could spend a lifetime studying these plants and count the time well used.

For this observer, the no-plus ultra of all Bromeliads is the fabulous Puya Raimondi found only in the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia. This is indeed one of the world’s greatest wonder plants.

44659 by Wyndham Hayward