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Bromeliads in the garden – Part I

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer
18 September 2021   |   4:09 am
If asked, most people they probably won’t known what a bromeliad is. However, if you asked what a pineapple is, majority would have no problem answering correctly.

Terrestrial bromeliad Puya alpestins “sapphire tower”<br />

If asked, most people they probably won’t known what a bromeliad is. However, if you asked what a pineapple is, majority would have no problem answering correctly.

So what is the connection between the two? Simply, a pineapple is a bromeliad. Bromeliads are among the most spectacular ornamentals to grow as landscape and house plants, but they are also one of the most overlooked. There are over 3,000 species of bromeliads (and more are being discovered). It is one of the most colourful of all plant families in terms of both foliage and flower varieties Bromeliads come in an unbelievable variety of colors, some are nearly fluorescent, and many are unique among the plant kingdom.

Even discounting their showy flower display, bromeliads are beautiful foliage plants, with strappy leaves in red, green, purple, maroon, orange, yellow, white banded, stripes, spots or other combinations. Foliage takes different shapes, from needle-thin to broad and flat, symmetrical to irregular, spiky to soft. Some varieties may have different colors on the tips and bottoms of the leaves. They are very adaptable, resilient, easy to grow plants.

Bromeliads are members of a plant family known as Bromeliaceae (bro-men-lee-AH-say-eye). The family of over 3, 000 species in approximately 56 genera. The most well known bromeliad is the pineapple (ananas comosus). The family contains a wide range of plants including some un-pineapple like members such as Spanish moss (which is neither Spanish nor a moss). Other members resemble aloes or yuccas, while still other looks like green, leafy grasses. There are several sub-families of bromeliad, they vary greatly in size, color, distribution, and ease of growth.

Some are small enough to sit on a windowsill, other as tall as 30ft. the largest bromeliad is Puya raimondii which reaches 3-4 metres tall in vegetative growth, with flower spike 9-10 metres tall, and smallest is Spanish moss “less than 2 ins tall” Bromeliads are tough and long lived, and they will combine comfortably with other plants. Pineapple and Spanish moss (tilandsia usneoides) are both kinds of bromeliads. But the ones most often seen in cultivation are epiphytic plants that grow naturally in the tropical and sub-tropical regions. Bromeliads are in Neotropical family which means they grow virtually exclusively in the new world. As a general rule, bromeliads will thrive in the same conditions as epithytic orchids. However, they are considerably more tolerant than orchids of fluctuations in temperature, drought and careless feeding. Most bromeliad are made up of a rosette of leaves and a wimpy root system at the end of a seemingly absent or very short stem. Bromeliads grow in different ways as epiphytes growing on other plants and trees; as terrestrial, growing on the ground; saxicolous, growing on rocks. Many bromeliads are able to store water in a structure formed by their tightly-over lapping leaf bases. The family is diversed enough to include the tank bromeliad : grey-leaved epiphyte tillandsia species that gather water from the Air from leaf structure called trichomes, in the form of scales or hairs which allow bromeliads to capture water in tropical rain forest: cloud forest, and help to reflect sun light in desert environments. Some bromeliads have also developed an adaptation known as the tank habit, which involves them forming a tightly bound structure with their leaves that helps to capture water and nutrients in the absence of a well-developed root system. This capability to take their nutrition and moisture from the atmosphere has earned these bromeliads the name “Air plants”. Bromeliads also use crasulacean acid metabolism (CAM) photosynthesis to create sugars. This adaptation allows bromeliad in hot or dry climates to open their stomates at night rather than during the day, which reduces water loss.

Bromeliads are a neotropical family which means they grow virtually exclusively in the new world, (tropics and sub-tropics). Most come from south America with the greatest number of species found in Brazil, They range from Chile, Argentina through Central America and the Carribean reaching South-eastern United State.

A single species (Pitcairhia Feliciana) is found only in West Africa. Bromeliad altitude range is from sea level to over 14,000 feet, they can be found in a wide variety of habitats from hot, dry desert to moist rainforest to cool mountainous regions.

The bromeliad is like a small ecosystem in itself-animals such as tree frogs, snail, insect larvae, flat worm, tiny crabs and salamandas might spend their entire lives inside them.

Some bromeliads are faintly scented, while others are heavily perfumed. The blooms from the species Tillandsia cyanea resemble the smell of clove spice.

The family Bromeliaceae is currently organized into three sub families: Bromelioideae (32 genera 861 specie) Pitcairnioideae (16 genera, 1030 species) Tillandsioideae (9 genera 1227 species).