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Don't Overlook Bromeliads For Indoor Flowers
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Growing flowers outdoors is a common practice most gardeners enjoy, but growing plants to bloom indoors is a pleasure many are reluctant to try except for African violets.
The pineapple, our symbol of hospitality in the South, comes from a plant group that we not only overlook but view with trepidation. This group is the bromeliads.
Many garden centers are selling pineapple plants with edible pineapples along with other bromeliads. I will not ask how many of you thought pineapples came from trees.
Bromeliads are popular for two main reasons: the showy foliage and the bloom that is really a group of bracts. Bracts are those showy modified leaves like poinsettias, bougainvillea, bird of paradise and dogwoods.
Bromeliads come in a wide variety of bloom shapes, sizes and colors, and they really are easier to grow than many think.
Many of the bromeliads sold are epiphytic. Do not let this big word scare you. This simply means their roots are mostly an anchoring device instead of an organ for water and nutrient up- take. With these bromeliads, we keep the soil slightly moist. Most of these plants have leaves that form a natural cup or urn that is to be kept filled with fresh water.
Those bromeliads that are not epiphytic are treated more like a regular houseplant. So talk to your nurseryman about what you are buying.
Many of you probably worry about providing the right amount of light for the bromeliad. Most bromeliads sold around the state are native to the rainforest. A pretty good rule of thumb to remember is that the thicker, scaly leaves -- many of which are grayish -- come from areas with brighter light. Those scales protect them from the intense sun and also absorb water and nutrients. These bromeliads need the brightest area of the house.
Those with shiny, glossy leaves come from the lower canopy or floor of the rainforest and can tolerate lower light conditions indoors.
There are thousands of bromeliads, but four of the easiest to grow and easiest to find are the Tillandsias, Vriesias, Guzmanias and Neoregelias.
Tillandsias are for the brighter indoor areas. Spanish moss is a popular southern Tillandsia. The more tropical Tillandsias are perfect for growing on an old piece of wood. They are also suitable for containers. My favorite is the Tillandsia cyanea that has a bloom the shape of a fish. Mist Tillandseas grown on tree trunks for their watering needs.
The Vriesia is another bromeliad for the brightest indoor areas. Keeping its cup filled with fresh water will give you a plant with a bloom that will last for weeks. It also has pretty foliage worth growing.
Guzmanias also have long-lasting flowers, but require less light. I am partial to the ones with the star-shaped blooms. Some Neoregelias are terrestrial -- drawing their nutrients from their roots, and some are epiphytic -- drawing nutrients through their leaves, but most require lower light. Almost all are grown for their exotically colored foliage.
Most bromeliads bloom only once, and the bloom lasts a long time. Before the plant dies, it will form side shoots called pups that can be separated for starting new plants.
It may take years for your particular species to bloom again. The bloom is so striking that it is worth the wait and celebration when it happens.
There is a bromeliad that will work well somewhere in your home, and now is a good time to start shopping.