For about the last few years I have been adding Bromeliads to my collection.  They are generally listed as tropical so must be protected or babied during Lincoln’s winters.  There are some natives of United States from Virginia and south. The majority come from South America. Now you can find them (some very expensive) in nurseries and at garden centers. I have even found some of mine in a grocery store.  They don’t all have to be blooming to be exciting!! Their foliage can be any color with some very wild patterns.  They have stripes, bands, and spots. Some have “tanks” to hold water, some cling to rocky cliffs, while others live in trees like orchids!

          The “tanks” grow as a rosette of leaves, very tight, without stems and with all of them coming out of the base.  When you water the “tank” it fills and water runs over to the leaves below and then on down. Care must be taken not to keep the roots wet or rot develops.  There is at least one Aechmea that has a vase 39 inches high.

          The “tank” BROMELIADS with their water are home to crabs, frogs, and spiders.  Many have become extinct because of collectors stripping them for sale and the expansion of people into the forest who clear the trees.  Some of them are now protected and unless someone already has them and is reproducing plants, there are none available from the wild.  Holland exports BROMELIADS by the tens of thousands.  Unfortunately people will throw their plants out after booming.  This of course is good for Holland growers.  When I see the plants now, their price has doubled in many cases from just a few years ago. 

          Like orchids, bromeliads may keep their bloom for months. One of my favorites is Aechmea fasciata (no common name but sometimes called “The Silver Vase”). Three years ago I had one in bloom (coming out of the tank a bright pink) and as it rose higher and higher blue bead like flower petals arrived and it lasted for months. Many of the tanks produce pups (never puppies) along their sides and mine had two.  After blooming the mother dies and I sawed her off at pot level.  I have been waiting for the pups to grow up. July 15th of this year, I noticed something going on in both pots. Now I have 2 pink blasts above the top of the water and by peaking, I can see the blue down there. It took two years for the pups to grow up!! The plants have been neat while growing. The vase is green with silver bands going around. The root system is small as water and food are mostly absorbed from the tank.  One doesn’t water the soil but runs the tank over. The water then runs down through several layers of leaves. Too much water can harm the roots.

          One of the other plants I know is an Aechmea but I don’t know the genus. I think it is Aechmae fulgens. It has a tall spike like purple bloom that shoots up 20 to 24 inches out of the tank.  It is covered with red “beads” which last for several months. Over the years I have had a number of pups and they bloom the next year.  Its mother stem is also very tough and I either saw it off or saw the pups off. It sometimes blooms two times a year.  Both of these Aechmeas have very thick leaves with sharp edges forming the tank.  Both spend the summer outside on the east side of the house.  Most of the bromeliads do not like full sun but do want high humidity.

          Another group is the Tillandsias which includes the air plants.  Their roots are only used as an anchor to a tree or rocky cliff.  All of their food and water is absorbed by grayish scales that cover the leaves.  These can be soaked on a regular basis if they are mounted on slabs of wood or rocks or can be sprayed with water which occasionally should contain fertilizer specific for TILLANDSIAS. Some of my books mention having a lava rock in which holes can be drilled easily.  Given time, their anchors (roots) will cling to the rough, airy surface.  For these, just water the rock and excess will run off. My favorite right now is TILLANDSIAS CAPUT-MEDUSA that was named as its thick twisted, spring leaves arose out of a bulbous tip and reminded someone of the goddess who had snakes for hair. Mine is about 9 inches high and just finished blooming from the center of the snakes with red bracts and blue flowers. I have it wired on a branch of driftwood. One can wrap the root area with damp sphagnum moss and wire in place until the roots take over. The moss can be dampened by misting.

          Liquid Nails is glue that will not harm the plants.  It is used to glue the Bromeliads to a slab or branch and eventually the roots will be clinging closely.

          One of the Bromeliads I had was a big, mean, variegated pineapple.  The leaves have very sharp spines and the tip feels like a sword when you run into it.  The cultivated pineapples are not variegated and have been cultivated for spinelessness.  The Earth Stars are small and very colorful, striped or banded in different colors.  The babies appear on stolons, or the center of the star becomes a new plant.

          Think of the Bromeliads in three ways:

1.     Terrestials-with regular root systems in soil.

2.     Tanks-the ones filled with water and a small root system that can survive in soil or mounted on a slab, and

3.     Airplants-who absorb water and food through the leaves. The roots are the anchors only.

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