Bromeliads (broh-MEE-lee-ads) are a family of about 3,000 species in about 56 genera native to North, Central and South America. They are found growing from as far north as Georgia down to the southern tip of Argentina in the widest range of climates and habitats at sea level, in rain and high cloud forests and on arid coastal deserts on the tops of mountains above the tree line, 12,000 feet up. There are about 6,000 hybrids and cultivars that have been developed by plant breeders. The most common growth form is a stemless rosette of leaves which may be perfectly symmetrical or twisted and curled into bizarre shapes. The foliage ranges from shades of solid green to brightly colored, spotted and banded. The inflorescences (blooms) flaunt dazzling color combinations as well as fantastic forms. Did you know that the common pineapple (Ananas comosus) that you love to eat is a bromeliad? It is and so is Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides).
More than half of the species are epiphytes, plants that grow on trees ; the rest are terrestrials (plants that grow in the ground) or saxicoles (plants that grow on rocks). Epiphytic bromeliads are not parasites; they do no harm to the host tree but simply use it as a perch to gain access to sunlight (forest floors are very dark). The root systems are normally small and serve mainly to anchor the plants to the tree branch or rock. Most of the functions of water and nutrient absorption have been taken over by the leaves. The leaves often form a reservoir that collects and holds water and they are found in water sufficient environments. Those that don’t hold water usually come from seasonally dryer areas and are adapted to drought conditions. These are called xerophytic or atmospheric (epiphytes only) bromeliads (see section on Air Plants).
By the process of natural selection bromeliads have responded to changing conditions in their habitats over the eons, and they have adapted to a wide range of new environments. This genetically adaptive facility is particularly strong in bromeliads, and it enables them to be grown successfully on window sills and under fluorescent lights in apartments and homes. They are easy to grow, inexpensive and will thrill you with their long-lasting colorful blooms and foliage.
The most commonly grown bromeliads in cultivation are in the following genera: Aechmea, Billbergia, Cryptanthus, Guzmania, Neoregelia, Tillandsia and Vriesea. Check out our Gallery to see photos of some species and cultivars in bloom in these and other genera.