Try The Bromeliads – Newest Things in House Plants in the 1950’s

For many generations the Bromeliaceae, “air plants” as they are better known, have been treasured members of choice greenhouse and conservatory collections. It is only in the recent years – starting back in the early 1950’s – of pot plant development, when orchids are sold like geraniums and saintpaulias are found on every window sill, that the ornamental and artistic beauties of the pineapple family are coining into their own as plants for the everyday home, like the Chinese evergreen and philodendron.

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

Colorful neoregelia lila

The outstanding member of the family is the common pineapple, 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 at York, England, in 1796, and there were others earlier. The cultivation of “pines” as they were called, was a good project for the tanbark “stoves” of England, 250 years ago.

In America, Bromeliads are grown in shady gardens in Florida (sometimes fastened to trees), in the subtropical Gulf Coast area, and in southern California. They can withstand only light frost and some are tropical, so that their geographical limit as outdoor plants is definitely 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 Broms, as they are popularly called, are terrestrial, and grow well in southern gardens. The pineapple is an example of a plant which was originally epiphytic (growing on trees in nature) but has adapted itself to ground culture. There are a dozen epiphytic species of the genus Tillandsia, to which the commonest “air plants” of the Florida hammock jungles belong, two Catopsis species, and one Guzmania 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 Bromeliads in the Missouri, Brooklyn, and New York Botanic Gardens where they have been objects of major interest for many years. Commercial growers have offered a limited selection of species and many different hybrids to fanciers and also the general public. Bromeliads are now mainstays at garden centers like Home Depot and Lowes. Bromeliads are reaching the plant lover with an affordable price, now almost anyone can buy a a Bromeliad Garden with a varietiy of plants. The Bromeliad wants and needs are simple and few. It will grow in almost any acid, porous, humus-type compost having good drainage.

Guzmania Rana in full flower

The plants should be underpotted rather than overpotted. with five-inch and six-inch pots being adequate for most of the types. Among the genera usually found in collections of Bromeliads are Vriesia, Guzmania, Neoregelia, Billbergia, Aechmea, Nidularium, Tillandsia, and Cryptanthus. There are truly succulent forms such as the Dyckias (like miniature century plants), Hechtia, Ananas, Neoglazoria, and a number of more or less rare ones, as Pitcarnia, Wittrockia, Orthrophytum, Streptocalyk, Quesnelia, along with others found occasionally in the catalogs of specialists.

Bromeliads like part shade and do better with abundant light, although they may be burned by strong, direct sun through a glass window. In too-dark a situation, the plants and leaves will be elongated and will 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 there are large species which 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 assure drainage.

A soft wiping with a damp cloth every week or two will remove dust, and keep the plants clean of such possible insect pests as plant scale and mealy bugs. 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 be removed when well grown and potted up 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 in a few more seasons.

Bromeliads like cool nights and warm days. 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, sprayings of water with an atomizer or bulb sprayer, such as is used for orchids, is highly beneficial. All in all, their culture is as simple as that of any house plant and their charm and grace most rewarding and satisfying. The 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 case may be.

One could spend a lifetime studying these plants and count the time well used. For the 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.

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