Bromeliads are finally getting the attention they deserve. Until recently, they were only popular with a small segment of house-plant enthusiasts. Today, bromeliads are prized tropical treasures in many Southwest Florida landscapes and public and private gardens. Featuring a wide range of color, leaf shapes and textures, bromeliads are as beautiful as they are hardy. If you’re looking for beautiful, exotic-looking tropical plants that are easy to care for and drought tolerant, look no further than bromeliads.
Bromeliads are in the Bromeliaceae family, which is native to the tropical Americas. The pineapple plant is the most popular bromeliad and is a major food crop industry. Bromeliads range in size from minuscule Spanish moss to the 30- ft. – tall Puya raimondii. There are thousands of varieties of bromeliads, making them an ideal fit for any spot in your garden. Some produce upright flower spikes, while others produce tiny flowers inside their water well (cup). Similarly, some have a faint scent, while others are heavily fragrant.
Bromeliads only bloom once. After blooming the mother plant dies, sometimes taking two years. But don’t despair, because bromeliads continually reproduce new plants (called pups) on the outer perimeter at their bases year after year. The pups can be removed when they are about one-third the size of the mother plant.
This is a big bonus with bromeliads. You may end up having too many pups, which occasionally you will have to thin them out for better air circulation to maintain healthy plants. This is not something I would call a problem: It’s time to party. Throw a bromeliad party and swap pups with your fellow bromeliad enthusiasts or just give them to friends.
Bromeliads are extremely diverse in their tolerance of sunlight. Some can withstand the full brunt of the South Florida sun, while others require full shade. They are also highly adaptable to indoor and outdoor environments.
Another bonus is that bromeliads have few insect problems. However, keep an eye out for scale and ever present snails. They like to take up residence in the water cups of your bromeliads or hide at the base where there are sturdy leaves. Also, wasps like to build combs on the underside of these sturdy leaves, so look before you leap, it could be a nasty surprise.
Bromeliads are not heavy feeders and, personally, I don’t think fertilizing is necessary. But, if you must, use a liquid fertilizer at half strength or a granular mixed with the potting soil, or fill the cup with water and add one pellet of slow release fertilizer, hardly worth the effort.
Bromeliads can be planted in mass, singularly in pots, or even attached to tree limbs. For an instant garden showpiece use an old cypress stump and flip it over, it makes a perfect planter for many bromeliads. This also makes for perfect a growing medium. They also look great attached to pieces of driftwood and the bare trunks of palm trees.
For even more visual impact, try hanging your bromeliads. Here’s a trick I use: Place bromeliads in the larger ends of old palm seed pods (attach plants with floral wire) then hang them on your lanai walls or in the garden. It’s a great way to add to your plant collection, when you have run out of planting room.
Bromeliads also work well in pots on the lanai because they add a lot of color without dropping old flowers or leaves and staining the surface of your deck.
Many bromeliads have such striking leaves; they needn’t be in bloom to attract attention. But when the flower spikes emerge, they become a work of art.
And more good news: That flower spike should last for months. Your local hummingbirds and butterflies will be doubly attracted, because they can feed on the flowers and drink from the water cup. Enjoy bromeliads and KEEP BUTTERFLYING!!!
Mike Malloy, local author and artist known as “The Butterfly Man” has been a Naples resident since 1991. A Collier County Master Gardener, he has written two books entitled “Butterfly Gardening Made Easy for Southwest Florida,” and “Tropical Color – A Guide to Colorful Plants for the Southwest Florida Garden”, and currently writes articles on various gardening topics for several local publications. Mike has planted and designed numerous butterfly gardens around Naples including many schools, the City of Naples, Rookery Bay, the Conservancy and Big Cypress. Bring your gardening questions to the Third Street Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings or on Thursdays at the Naples Botanical Garden where he does a Plant Clinic or visit his website, www.naplesbutterfly.com