Bromeliads - The pineapple family is very diversified
Last updated 10/8/2021 at 3:44pm
By Roger Boddaert
Special to the Village News
The bromeliad family is enormous and comes from the tropical regions of the world. It is now a popular interior house plant and is becoming a trendy plant out in the landscape these days.
Over 3,500 species of bromeliads and thousands of genera, and colorful hybrids, have exploded in recent years through plant hybridization and plant selection.
The bromeliad plant family has been collected from Mexico, Central America, and down to Patagonia in Chile, and does well in our gardens of Southern California.
The nursery industry saw the potential and started a massive propagation program to grow, breed, and produce new hybrids through laboratory tissue culture over the past years.
A plant breeder named Ed Hummel had greenhouses in the Leucadia area and developed many exciting breakthroughs with his new bromeliad hybrids. Mr. Hummel was a horticulturalist who was continually developing new plant forms for the gardening world of the future.
I had the incredible experience back in the sixties of spending a day at Hummel's greenhouses and learning from this international plant guru. As we strolled through his nursery, he explained why he was making specific crosses. He always carried a thin camel-hair paintbrush in his pocket, pollinating from one plant to another with specific genetic features that he envisioned.
Years ago, I worked in Los Angeles as a plant manager for a large interior plant company. My job was to design and install exotic interior plant installations throughout the Los Angeles area with my crew. We used a vast array of bromeliads in these interior plant designs, along with palms, philodendrons and dracaena. It wasn't just a few potted bromeliads, but entire interior tropical scenes, and they were very novel to the public's eye at that time.
Some of our clients were the Los Angeles Times, Union Oil, Richfield Oil, Hilton Hotels, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and private homes in the L.A. basin to mention a few.
The bromeliad family has brought so many new, easy-to-grow plants to our homes and is becoming more popular nowadays. They can even be found in supermarket floral departments.
Perhaps you have enjoyed the delicious pineapple fruit, which is classified as a bromeliad titled Ananas. You can cut off the top of the pineapple, allow it to dry some, plant it in a well-drained soil potting mix, and you might have your own fruiting pineapple in a few years.
What intrigues me most about bromeliads is the vast spectrum of form, color, shapes from epiphytic (growing in trees) to the terrestrial (earth-growing) bromeliads from the world's tropics and growing here very happily in San Diego County.
One of the mass-produced bromeliads in the early years was Aechmea fasciata. This plant has a silver chalice-shaped vase form with a pink and blue flower spike erupting from the center of the plant and is a spectacular plant to enjoy for months on end, and then ma-ma plant sets off baby pups at her base to grow and flower in a couple of years.
I once had the incredible experience listening to the Brazilian landscape architect and plantsman Roberto Burle Marx at a Cal-Poly lecture many a moon ago. Marx was involved in the design of the colorful Copacabana promenade along the beachfront in Rio de Janeiro. But his signature landscape was his design and creation of Brazilia, a new city deep in the heart of the Brazilian jungles, incorporating large swaths of terrestrial bromeliads and other indigenous exotic plants throughout his creative, and artful earth designs.
You can hold a tiny Tillandsia plant in your hand and then learn that the giant Tillandsia raimondi from Patagonia has a flower spike towering 20 ft in height, and does this blow you away about the diversity of this plant family?
The hanging gray Spanish moss is Tillandsia usneoides that cascades abundantly from trees and is another plant to add to your bromeliad collection. It is a delicate gray hanging plant and I have seen birds plucking this soft mossy tread-like plant and fly away with tiny pieces of the plant to cradle in the nest for their babies.
The forms and shapes of bromeliads are exciting, with colorful leaves in stripes, mottled, spotted or speckled. This family of plants is easy to grow with many variations and even a few fragrant nocturnal Tillandsia, so be on the lookout.
The culture is elementary with basic needs, that you can mount in trees, twigs, or hanging baskets or grow the terrestrial species in your garden planters.
Their culture can range from full sun, dappled light to a shady nook for that unique focal point in your niche areas of the landscape.
As container plants, they enjoy fast drainage with an organic base of wood chips or an orchid potting mixture and multiply quickly with side baby pups.
And when the mother plant goes through its completed flowering cycle, she puts all her energy into her side shoots, multiplying in time.
The Neoregelia clan has tiny flowers born deep inside the cup of the plant, while others have their flowers high above the plant's leaves like the portea species (not protea). These flowers can tower 5 feet above the mother plant and are a marvelous candidate as an exotic cut flower for your home.
Some of the shade-loving bromeliads mix well with clivia, ferns, liriope, fushia and mondo grass. At the same time, the plumeria, hibiscus, puya, and assorted succulents are a good combination out in the sun for some specific brom's.
If you want to enjoy these tropical plants inside the home, consider; Guzmania, Vriesia and Aechmea, which have a great look, and flowers that last for months. I like to place these interior bromeliads on a low saucer with a bit of water to add to the humidity for the plant, which they enjoy while maintaining freshwater inside the central leaves of the cup.
I have often thought of bromeliads as an investment plant, for they increase in size as they mature, and you can get your money's worth. I have some clumps of brom's that I planted over 10 years ago out in my garden, and they measure 6 to 8 feet across, with dozens of plants within that one large clump. So choose wisely in placing the right plant in the right place, says Roger.
There are likely undiscovered rare bromeliads and other plants high in the tall jungle tree canopies yet to be discovered due to their inaccessibility. But in my opinion, let them be, for we have lost so many species of flora and fauna out in the wild to date.
Unfortunately, there are areas in the Amazon delta, which are being cut down and burned so farmers can grow crops or raise cattle for the fast-food hamburgers.
With these open wounds in the Amazon river delta, the entire ecosystem has been changed forever. We must understand that this vast area around the equator is our oversized air conditioner for our planet and is being threatened daily and as I write these ancient tropical forests are being slaughtered.
If you are a collector, there are local and international bromeliad clubs, and you will see the best of the best at these plant shows. You can buy new and scarce plants to add to your collection at these bromeliad expositions as well.
Some of these rare species are being grown from seed or through micropropagation to continue the bloodline. Many extinct wild plants have been rescued and are alive in botanical gardens, conservatories or private collections.
Even if you want to stay in your jammies and bunny slippers, going online is another way to obtain unique plants and have them delivered right to your front door within a few days with some specialty plant mail-order nurseries.
I sincerely hope that perhaps I have opened up some new horizons in your horticultural and green life to grow, appreciate and enjoy the wonderful world of the bromeliad family.
Take a few extra moments in your life to enjoy the many intricacies of the plant kingdom and the green grandeur on this floating green spaceship called earth. To date, we might be the only planet with this enormous vibrant green blanket encircling the earth.
And, I say, not only smell the roses, but open your senses to view what's around you in your daily life. So go out and plant a tree or two and help cool the planet.
Roger Boddaert, a landscape designer, horticulturist and certified I.S.A. arborist, can be reached at (760) 728-4297 to help you with your landscape and environmental needs.