The Plant Lady SF Presents: Bromeliads

Bromeliads are a diverse family of plants that unfortunately can be overlooked or relegated to an aesthetic niche that often doesn’t show off their true appeal. However, in our opinion at least, Bromeliads are one of the best-kept secrets of the horticultural world! In this article will be covering some general information about this plant family, including some fun facts and care tips. Then we will share how to style Bromeliads in your home in a modern way that shows off their incredible range and otherworldly timelessness.

This plant family, Bromeliaceae, is known for its epiphytic/ semi-epiphytic nature, encompassing both traditional Bromeliads and Tillandsia (Air Plants). “Epiphytic” refers to these plants' growth habits, which allow them to capture water in the air through their foliage, instead of their roots. Being one of the older lineages of plants, their evolution can be dated back to at least 30 million years ago. There are over 3,000 species of Bromeliads found across the lower half of North America and throughout South America. They are adapted to a broad range of habitat, spanning tropical regions and even arid deserts. These plants are also known for their colorful foliage and flowers. Commercially, Bromeliads are most frequently sold planted in a pot. 

There are many genus of Bromeliads, which can grow in a variety of climates, so there truly is one for everyone! Some of the most popular in cultivation are Guzmania, Aechmea, Vriesea, Neoregelia, and Cryptanthus. While many of them dazzle with their colors and patterns, some also have delicious edible fruit! In fact, you’ve definitely heard of the most delicious bromeliad of them all, the pineapple! 

The central pitcher of many bromeliads is ecologically significant, because it provides a home for many tropical amphibians in the wild! It acts as a water reservoir, trapping water for the plant to use. Poison dart frogs’ tadpoles are raised in this mini pond! Frogs and Bromeliads share a mutualistic symbiosis in their natural habitat. 


Above: a variety of frogs in their secret hideouts. Bromeliads are the host of a tiny ecosystem! 
There are even carnivorous Bromeliads, such as Catopsis berteroniana, which have evolved to digest unsuspecting prey that fall in their central pitcher. 


Reasons you may not have considered bromeliads previously:

When you think of Bromeliads, odds are, you think of something like this:

Above: The dated-looking, neotropical vibes of indoor plants of yesteryear. In our opinion, something about tropical plants being planted in rows on the ground like corn feels diminishing!

…Sadly, this is probably about the least charming way to show the unique and captivating character of this plant family. In a way, Bromeliads have fallen victim to the abuse of their charms. What is really a splendid and intriguing plant has been relegated to a careless display in the mall, airport, office, surrounded by other unfortunate flora, or even…. FAKE PLANTS. Perhaps that is why we tend not to notice them anymore. They are so impossibly colorful and easy to care for, they could be mistaken for plastic at times. 

This is all to say that we may unfairly associate Bromeliads with a kind of corporate, conservative style and may have written them off as a plant that can’t be used in interesting and modern decor. Here’s the good news though: it doesn’t have to be this way! With a few easy tricks you can reclaim this plant and allow its true beauty to shine!

Styling your bromeliads:

Bromeliads have a stunning architectural form, which means they can easily function as a focal plant in your home, or can be used to compliment aspects of a room. Here are a few examples of how to style bromeliads in a modern way.  

Instead of a rectangular trough or shiny black bowl (classic dentist office vibes) try choosing a more organic shaped container in a color that matches the undertones of your plant. Terra cotta is always a safe bet! 

Even better, grow them soil-less in a glass container (shown below), misting or dunking the plant in water once a week. This is really beautiful, next-level way to display them! 

Bromeliads look fantastic in a design that highlights their unique growth, like in a tree, or a living wall. They are also very beautiful adorning a water feature- the humidity generated there will also keep them looking good. 

More ideas:

You can also use bromeliads to compliment a color scheme in your room. Here, they are used in a kitchen full of warm jewel tones, like deep red, terra cotta, and gold. This works well as a foil to the bright tones of the Bromeliad’s flowers; even the more common varieties are elevated to treasured specimens in this setting. The contrast between the bright yellow-green flowers and the red wall is especially stunning- with the pinks and purples acting as a happy medium. Because of the use of the Bromeliads, the room doesn’t feel dark, despite the deep colors- it feels luxurious!

Above: Here, a room full of true neutrals like white, beige, and dark wood is brought to life by the sophisticated palette of the Bromeliads selected for foliage. I don’t know how, but ‘farmhouse tropical’ seems to really work. 

Below:  The contrast of green, orange, and white is bright and lively. The key here is softness- in the plants, pillows, basket planters, etc. 


Bromeliad care:

Bromeliads are not tricky plants as long as you have adequate light for them. They often have very stiff, thick straplike leaves that store plenty of water and can survive periods of drought. This being said, they can be prone to overwatering in low light. Remember: a plant can often survive UNDERwatering, but is less likely to overcome OVERwatering. Keep in mind: Some Bromeliads are monocarpic, meaning that when they are done blooming, they will die. But don’t worry! New “pups'' or babies will emerge from the side of the main plant as it fades.

~  Water ~

Softer leaved, green, or tender foliage varieties should be watered more frequently than rigid varietes. This is to say, a loose approximation of once every 1-2 weeks. If it’s planted in medium like soil, check to make sure it is almost completely dry before watering. This can be estimated by picking it up and gauging the lightness of the pot. If your Bromeliad has a central reservoir, the most foolproof method is to maintain a shallow pool of water inside at all times, like it would have in nature. They don’t have a humidity requirement, but it’s a good idea to mist down the leaves every so often and gently wipe them down to keep dust-free.

Additionally, if you live somewhere with hard water, it’s not a bad idea to use rain or distilled water for your plant. As epiphytes, Bromeliads can be sensitive to water quality.

~ Light ~

Bright indirect, and even some direct light, are best for Bromeliads. Check for signs of sun bleaching if your plant is near a particularly hot afternoon window. Make sure the leaves never feel hot to the touch. You can even plant your Bromeliads outside in milder climates, including San Francisco- just check that they are a cold-hardy variety, and outdoors they will do better in part or full shade where they won't get sunburned. 

~ Medium ~

Choosing a medium to plant your Bromeliad in depends on how often you are willing to water, and what aesthetic you like. They do well planted in both moss and soil. Depending on how much light your Bromeliad is in, it may need to be watered more frequently if planted in moss. On the other hand, moss allows for more creative freedom with planting! Sphagnum moss can be bunched and gathered around the roots, allowing you to mount your plant wherever you so desire, like in a branch or cork bark. Once established, the medium is less important. As long as they are growing and look well, they ultimately don’t need much in the way of medium. Coconut coir and regular, well draining potting soil are also acceptable. Repotting may only be necessary if the medium has become so depleted as to be hydrophobic (no longer absorbing water). Then, it may be a good idea to pot up in proportion to the size of your plant. 

Alternatively, you can also grow these plants like air plants! Fully submerge in water (you can leave the flower out of the water if the plant is flowering) once a week, allow to dry, and then place them back in whatever container you choose! 

We hope this article has given you some ideas on how to grow and decorate with bromeliads!! Happy planting :) 


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