Want to add tropical vibes and brilliant color to your indoor space? Bromeliad plants offer both—and they’re relatively easy to care for with just a few tips.
The first thing to know about bromeliads is that they are epiphytic plants, growing not in soil, but on rocks, on the ground, or high above on the branches of trees, like their orchid cousins. While some bromeliads gain the advantage of better access to light in their shaded jungle environment by growing on tree branches, they are not parasitic, so no harm is done to the trees.
Bromeliads can do this because they take in nutrients from the air around them (and help clean the air in your space while they're at it). They collect and hold water not through roots, but through the central cup at the base of the plant formed by its rosette of long, stiff, spiny leaves. In the right conditions, a spike of brightly colored flowers will grow out of the plant’s center.
The other thing to know about the bromeliad family is that it’s a big family, with more than 2,000 species featuring different growth habits, flower colors, and leaf patterns. Tillandsia, or air plants, are actually a kind of bromeliad.
Other types include pineapples (yes, the kind we eat!), earth stars, sword plant, urn plant, and many others. While most bromeliad species feature stiff leaves arching out from a central rosette, the cultivar Queen’s Tears has different look: a tuft of long, elegant, grasslike leaves, which will produce slender shoots with multicolored green, red, and blue flowers at the ends in winter.
Best Growing Conditions for Bromeliad Plants
Bromeliads grow best in warm temperatures that don’t fall below 60 degrees at night and reach above 70 degrees during the day. Then need bright indirect light to thrive and look their best. Too much light will cause brown areas on the leaves, while too little will cause the leaves to lose their silver patterning and grow long and leggy. Earth star bromeliads in particular need dappled shade, since they're used to growing on the forest floor far from sunlight.
While bromeliads may prefer to live in the treetops in the wild, they can also grow well in pots—but not in soil. Instead, stabilize your bromeliad in its pot with a light potting medium that will allow for air circulation, like mix of coarse sand and sphagnum moss or a blend of two parts potting soil, one part perlite, and one part orchid bark. This growing medium should be kept just barely damp—medium that’s too dry or too wet.
In addition to displaying bromeliads in pots (or hanging baskets for trailing varieties), you can mount them on a board or, with tillandsia, display them in elegant wire frames or even place them loose along a shelf or windowsill.
Tillandisia do not need to be potted in growing medium or have their roots wrapped in moss.
If you have enough space, bromeliad plants can be grown on a decorative tree branch indoors. Make sure that the branch is properly anchored in a pot that won’t tip over—securing the branch in concrete is one way to do this. Wrap your bromeliad’s roots in a handful of long-fibered sphagnum moss that’s been moistened, then affix it to your decorative branch using a strong, attractive twine or floral wire covered in green floral tape.
Keep the moss evenly damp and the bromeliad’s central cup well watered. You can attach different types of bromeliads to different points on one strong, well-anchored branch to make an attractive display.
How to Care for Bromeliad Plants
Bromeliads do best when their caretakers simulate natural conditions. To help your bromeliad plants do their best, try to imitate their humid jungle environment and epiphytic growth habit.
When watering, add water to the rosette’s central cup rather than the growing medium, as the medium must stay just barely damp, and overwatering will cause roots to rot. Keep the central cup full of water at all times; if possible, collect rainwater in a vessel outdoors and use that to water your bromeliad.
Instead of the stray insects that collect in a jungle bromeliad’s central cup and provide additional nutrients, simply add a couple of drops of liquid houseplant fertilizer to the cup each month.
Spritz the leaves of your bromeliad with water every few days to simulate rainforest humidity. If you notice brown tips on your bromeliad’s leaves, that’s an indication that the air in your space is too dry. Consider keeping your bromeliad in your bathroom to give it a humidity boost.
With sufficiently warm temperatures and the right amount of light, your bromeliad will soon shoot up a central flower spike. If conditions are right but your bromeliad isn’t flowering, you can try inducing flowers by placing the plant and pot in a clear plastic bag with an apple for a couple of days—check to make sure the bag doesn’t have any holes in ti. The ethylene given off by the apple can help induce flower buds.
Your bromeliad’s blooms can last as long as six months. During the regenerative post-bloom phase, which can sometimes take months or years, your bromeliad will grow offsets, or new plants, at its base, and the original plant will eventually die back.
How to Propagate Bromeliad Plants
While it is possible to grow bromeliads from seed, it takes years for plants propagated this way to grow to maturity. Because of this, most home gardeners prefer to reproduce their bromeliads by removing offsets, or pups, from the base of the mother plant.
When the offsets are eight inches tall or so, they should be ready to be removed and potted on their own. Offsets can be removed and repotted during any season.
Step 1: Prepare a fresh pot and fresh growing medium, such as an orchid mix or a mix of long-fibered sphagnum moss and coarse sand.
Step 2: Gently remove the mother plant and pups from the pot. Check to see that the offsets grown their own roots before removing them from the mother plant. Gently loosen the soil around the offset’s roots and carefully pull the roots to see where the offset connects to the mother plant.
Step 3: Use a clean, sharp blade to make a cut as close to the mother plant as you can without damaging the roots. Carefully remote the detached pup from the mother plant.
Step 4: Plant each offset in its own small pot (or mount or tie it to another surface) and replant the mother in its own pot. Be sure to keep the new plants’ growing medium consistently just-barely moist and the central cup full of water.