Bromeliads and Air Plants are distinctly different and desirable because of their striking foliage and unusual flowers. Both groups come from the same large family of plants known as Bromeliaceae which includes pineapples and Spanish moss.
Bromeliads originate in Central and South America,as well as the Caribbean.
They grow in various natural habitats from hot, drydesert, to moist rainforests, to cool, mountainous regions.
Bromeliads all consist of a spiral arrangement of leaves called a “rosette”.
Some popular Bromeliads are Scarlet Star (Guzmania lingulata minor), Earth Stars (Cryptanthus), Blushing Bromeliad (Neoregelia carolinae tricolor), Bird’s Nest Bromeliad (Nidularium innocentii), and Flaming Sword (Vriesea splendens).
The best known Bromeliad is the Silver Vase (Aechmea fasciata) with its long, leathery, silver-green, strap-like leaves that are edged with sharp spines. The overlapping foliage forms a natural, watertight urn shape hence the common name “Urn Plant” (Aechmea). In the jungle this urn fills with and holds rainwater, twigs, insects, and other natural debris which provides moisture and nutrients for many months. After several years a flower stalk (called a “scape”) emerges from the center of the rosette and rises above the arching leaves. At the tip is a prickly pink flower that produces tiny blue florets. This flower lasts several months and is very dramatic. The only drawback to this plant is that it only blooms once.
Care of Bromeliads
The purchased plant is potted in a soilless mix that drains well.
Water the soil when it just begins to feel dry to the touch.
Do not overwater a Bromeliad, but it is crucial to keep water in the cup formed by the overlapping leaves. Empty them every 1 to 2 months and refill them with fresh water.
Bromeliads love high light and humidity. Position them in a bright, sunny location to imitate their natural environment.
Bromeliads are slow-growing and do not need much fertilizer. Granular, slow-release fertilizer can be applied on the soil surface but not in the cup.
Remove the flower stalk with a sharp knife or pair of scissors when the flower stalk starts to lose its bright, vibrant colour and turn brown.
Pests rarely bother Bromeliads. If scale or mealy bug becomes a problem, remove them with a Q-tip dipped in Rubbing Alcohol.
When the flower is cut off, energy is redirected to produce side-shoots or “pups” around the base of the mother plant. These offsets feed from the main plant until they’re large enough to set roots of their own and survive as a separate plant. When the pups are a third to half the size of the parent plant, they can be separated and potted up individually.
Plant each one in a light soil that drains easily and quickly. Mix equal parts of mulch/fine bark nuggets, Perlite, and peat moss or soilless mix for the best soil. Keep in mind that the longer they’re left on the mother, the faster they’ll reach maturity and bloom. The entire process will take about 3 years.
Once the offsets have been removed the original plant is generally discarded since it will not bloom again or produce a second generation of pups. Sometimes the separated Bromeliad refuses to bloom.
Exposing the plant to ethylene gas can trigger the flowering process. Simply place the Bromeliad in a plastic bag with a ripe apple. Keep it out of direct sun for a week. The apple will release ethylene causing a chemical reaction that tells it to stop producing leaves and start producing a flower spike.
Known as Epiphytes in the wild, Air Plants (Tillandsias) attach themselves to trees, branches or rocks.
Roots serve only to give plants a firm anchor to whatever they are growing on.
They take nothing from the host plant, but rather absorb all of their moisture and nutrition requirements from the air through their highly specialized leaves. These leaves contain tiny scales called “trichomes” that hold greater amounts of water against the leaf surface for a longer period of time. Trichomes also help to reflect intense sunlight away from the surface of the foliage. They are what give Air Plants their characteristic grey colour.
Some Air Plants have thin leaves. This indicates they originated in areas with more rain so you may need to provide them with more moisture.
Thick leaf varieties come from areas prone to drought.
Like Bromeliads, Air Plants also flower when they’re mature. 1 to 2 months after the bloom has finished, new plants form around the base. The offsets can be removed and mounted on driftwood, seashells, coral, crystals, or lava rock using non-water soluble glue.
Care of Air Plants
The right amounts of light, water and air circulationare key factors for success with Air Plants.
Light should be bright but filtered from April toSeptember. Direct sun in the summer burns the foliage.
From November to March as the intensity of the sunlight diminishes, Air Plants can be placed in direct sun.
Air plants will also flourish under full spectrumfluorescent lights.
Dip the whole plant in tepid water for a few seconds and then shake off all excess moisture. Do this moreoften in a hot, dry environment and less often in a cool,humid one.
Ensure enough light and air circulation is givenfollowing each watering as the Air Plant will rot ifkept consistently wet or moist.
Misting is very beneficial but should not be the solemeans of watering. Mist between regular watering to increase humidity.
If leaves become shriveled, the Air plant is dehydratedand can usually be revived by soaking it in waterovernight. Be sure to shake off all excess moisture the following morning.
Air Plants do not need a lot of fertilizing. Simply dilute an all-purpose or flowering water soluble fertilizer to ¼ or ½ the strength and spray the leaves several times per season. If the water in your area is hard, distilled water is highly recommended since lime deposits stain foliage.