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Bromeliads are another of my favourite plants. They are so strikingly tropical looking that they may just instantly put you in mind of exotic and lazy-but-exciting holidays. Me, I get images of trekking through rainforests searching for unusual creatures! There are a vast number of types available to keep as houseplants, all of which have varying appearances, so I will be reviewing them in general terms. I am also sharing purely my own knowledge, which has been gained from various places in many contexts, so I will apologise to any botanists here if I have some things not quite technically right!
== General information ==
There are over 3000 different species of plants which come under the umbrella of bromeliads and in fact the pineapple is part of this family. There are two types of bromeliads, the epiphyte and the terrestrial. Terrestrial, as you may have guessed, are those that grow on the ground while epiphytes (or 'air plants') grow on trees or even buildings, and take moisture and nutrition from the rain, air humidity or even organic matter lying around their roots. Interesting fact, Orchids are another type of epiphyte (but that's another review).
== Appearance ==
As far as I am aware they all produce unusual central flowers of various colours and shapes; I have seen pink, red, yellow and orange. The air plants I have seen are somewhat muted in colour compared to the terrestrial plants, though the central flowers can still be striking. I could be here forever describing the different flowers that I know of, so the best thing I can recommend is to go have a Google at images if you'd like to see them. It's very much worth having a look, since I can't show you any pics.
The leaves of these plants grow out from a central crown (not sure if that's the right word technically) and are very tightly wrapped and overlaid, creating a sort of tube in the middle; this is usually where the flower sprouts. Leaves can be bright green, darker green and even variegated. The leaves on one of mine are so smooth and glossy, with perfectly straight and crisp lines of variegation that they look like they should have been created by a machine rather than something as changeable as nature.
The air plants do tend to be a bit duller, ranging from dark green to grey on the leaves with flowers in less vivid shades. They definitely have their own charm though and are just as gorgeous in my opinion as their brighter relatives. Garden centres often carry small air plants in lovely glass vases or dishes with gravel etc in them, so you may well have encountered them previously.
== Propagation ==
Bromeliads produce 'pups', which will grow into new plants. These appear as new little tubes in amongst the leaves. They are easy to spot if you go looking for them. I am unsure how to remove these from the mother plant, and with one of my own plants I never bothered (more later). I did try removing one from a different plant though, and simply carefully but firmly pulled it away from the base once it was well established. I could see some roots attached so I potted it up and cared for it. It never grew but it didn't die either!
The plant I didn't remove them from, was a housewarming gift from my brother and sister in law, over 2.5 years ago. It is a Guzmania and it had a single burgundy-red flower. One day, I spotted 2 little baby plants, one either side of it. Since I was unsure what to do, I just left it alone until these 2 plants grew as big as the original mother plant! During their growth, the original plant in the middle went woody and dried out as it was dying. I would cut away all the wood as it appeared and eventually I had twins that looked just like the original plant. Now, each of these twins have a couple of pups appearing, so I may even end up with quadruplets!
I would personally recommend not trying to remove the pups, instead simply cutting away the dead wood as the new plants grow. It is quite a stunning effect having a double bromeliad, and the overall span of my plant currently is almost 2ft.
== Care ==
Another easy one, I think. I keep mine in my living room, which is a light, airy and warm room. I don't keep them in direct sun though they do receive a lot of light. I remember reading somewhere that they liked to be watered by pouring the water into the middle of the tube created by the leaves; when you do this, you can see the water sits there and some will run down into the soil. I figured this made sense due to another interesting fact I have for you - there are actually little frogs that live their whole lives on bromeliads, getting their water from these pools! So it stands to reason that if this is how nature waters these plants it's how I will too. I water mine every fortnight roughly during Summer and approx monthly (at most) during Winter. As is usual for me, I do not feed commercial foods as I use turtle tank water and it's full of organic 'food' (eew).
Another advantage of these plants for keeping in the home, is that they have very small root systems. The one I told you about that keeps multiplying, well it's never been repotted yet, I simply topped up the compost when I had cut away all of the original mother plant. The root ball is tiny considering how large the plant is. I think this aids the creation of an even more striking display, as you can have this exotic, bushy plant sitting in a relatively small decorative pot. It does mean that care needs to be taken not to over water though, as the roots could easily rot if you do.
I just use multipurpose compost for these and it seems to do the job perfectly well.
== Other uses ==
Well, I mentioned that the knowledge I have of these plants has come from a few sources and contexts. It may not surprise a lot of you to learn that the main one is probably in exotic pet keeping! Bromeliads are widely used in live planted vivaria. Not only are they native to the same places as a lot of the animals kept in such vivaria (so there are overlaps in requirements) but their small root systems make them ideal for planting within what is essentially a glass box. They positively thrive in planted tanks. The air plants are often used for desert species such as bearded dragons, since they can deal with very low humidity, whereas the terrestrial ones are used largely in amphibian setups since they like higher humidity.
== Recommend? ==
Oh, definitely. I see no reason these plants can't be enjoyed by experienced houseplant enthusiasts as well as those who are just starting out and don't know their stomata from their stamen! They are beautiful, stunning plants, there are literally thousands to choose from and they really are quite simple to keep. Just follow some basic care rules applicable for the type you have, sit back and admire.