Bromeliads have pineapples in family

By Bonnie JohnsonMy Nassau Sun Logo

Although I'm a master gardener and have received more than the initial 52 hours of training, you won't find a perfectly manicured landscape at my house. Instead, I have a garden filled with spontaneous buys and interesting treasures from special friends. I'm a Northern transplant and can't believe the long growing season and warm weather. "Right Plant, Right Place" is a great UF/IFAS Florida Friendly concept but occasionally I long for things unusual. My Plumeria, or frangipani, is too tropical for this area, but it is blooming for the first time this year! I have my fingers crossed for no hard freezes. So, as you may have guessed, my yard is filled with many surprises.

In one of my small gardens, the surprise is the exotic bromeliad. Native to the American tropics, bromeliads are a large, diverse plant family. In native habitats, bromeliads known as epiphytes grow on trees or other plants (after a windstorm, they're often seen on the ground), terrestrials grow in soil, and saxicolous grow on rocks. Bromeliads grow from deserts to rain forests and can adapt from one habitat to another. They'll even grow indoors. Plants vary dramatically with colorful foliage and exotic shapes and are easy for the home gardener to grow. They collect nutrients through their leaves from water or the air. Their minimal root system is used mainly for stability.

You're familiar with bromeliads, although you might not know it. You've seen them in the nurseries and the box stores. In fact, you've probably eaten one. The pineapple is part of the bromeliad family. Leaves of bromeliads are usually on the fleshy side and may be green, gray, maroon, spotted or striped, and can be grass-like or broad and long. Leaves grow in a rosette pattern; some develop a cup or vase in the center that collects water and other nutrients. Quite often what attracts you to the bromeliad is the showy bract in the center of the plant. The bract is actually a specialized leaf which can live for many weeks. Eventually a bloom will appear. The plant blooms only once, but will live for about another year producing "pups" (new plants) around the base.

Commonly known bromeliads in my yard include Aechmea (urn or living vase plant), Ananas (pineapple), Billbergia (the most cold hardy), Cryptanthus (earth stars), Guzmania, Neoregelia (painted fingernail plant), Nidularium, Tillandsia (Spanish moss) and Vriesea.

Growing tips include using regular potting mix, watering when soil is dry, and providing good air circulation and occasional light fertilizer. Bromeliads will tolerate a wide range of light, but keep out of direct sun. Move inside if freezing temperatures are expected. My plants are in the ground so they must be protected if frost occurs. Scale, mealy bugs and spider mites can be a problem but are easily controlled.

Even if a perfectly manicured landscape is on your agenda, keep it filled with surprises and I hope the bromeliad is one of them.

Bonnie Johnson lives on Amelia Island and is an active master gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. She has lived in Nassau County for five years.



Bonnie Johnson

Bonnie Johnson lives on Amelia Island
is an active Master Gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.