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Bromeliads Belong in Your Garden PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Shimonski, BT Contributor   
November 2016

They’re easy to grow and add color anywhere -- without fear of the Z word

JPix_YourGarden_11-16ust about every day I go through my garden to see what’s new, what needs attention, and what just popped out overnight. Since I’ve been regularly applying mulch from local tree-chipping operations for many years now, the soil is uncompacted and high in organic matter. This is great for all the palm species that I grow, and very good for mushrooms.

Going out the day after a heavy rain, I feel like a kid on an Easter egg hunt, looking for that special prize. I’ve been rewarded lately with some nice mushroom specimens, some edible, some not, and new species that are a challenge to identify.

The gingers and heliconias benefit from all the organic matter, as do my terrestrial bromeliads. At the Parrot Jungle, whenever we chipped up a large amount of palm fronds and trunks, I learned to direct this resource to the bromeliad beds, where the bromeliads would thrive for the next several years.

The photo that accompanies this article shows a miniature species of a favorite group of bromeliads, Neoregelia. These bromeliads are stoloniferous, meaning they send out new plants via little branch-like structures, or stolons. This large genus is distinctive for having a sunken inflorescence (the structure that holds the flowers); the flowers stay inside the center cup. A large flower spike is not pushed out from the center of the plant. To appreciate the color of the larger Neoregelia species, especially when they bloom, one must look down on them; the plants need to be on the ground.

The miniatures aren’t showy bloom-wise, but they sure make attractive clumps when growing on the trunks of trees or palms. The photo shows a Neoregelia pauciflora with a 1923 silver dollar for scale. These are full-sized plants that can add appeal to any garden or landscape. They grow well in hanging pots, and especially well growing naturally on the trunks of trees and palms. I attach the bromeliads to the trunk carefully via a zip-tie and then let the new plant grow. Once the bromeliads are rooted onto the trunk, the zip tie should be removed so growth of the trunk isn’t restricted.

A favorite bromeliad for many growers, and one I’m sure most people will recognize, is Neoregelia Fireball the little red bromeliad that can eventually form dense clumps. This bromeliad was introduced into cultivation in the 1960s by my former boss at the Parrot Jungle, Nat Deleon, who was responsible for the introduction of many bromeliad species and hybrids.

This is one of many bromeliad species that do well in almost full sun. The red color comes out in strong light. When these plants are grown in shaded locations, the foliage becomes green. The silver lines on the plant in the photo become much more distinctive in more light. The red and silver, which come from modified cellular structures, protect the plant from too much light.

Most bromeliad species bloom once and then die. These miniature bromeliads sometimes don’t bloom for years, giving a nice dense look without having gaps from bromeliads that have bloomed and died out. Some other favorite miniatures are N. ampullacea, N. tigrina, N. olens, N. pepper and N. liliputiana.

I was going to show a photo of the diminutive N. liliputiana, which is about half the size of the plant in the photo, but alas, it isn’t too showy. This cute little plant was named after Jonathan Swift’s island country of Lilliput. How cool is that! Every plant collection needs one.

Along with the miniature Neoregelia, I grow many of the smaller Tillandsia, another large genus of the bromeliad family. These plants also do well in a lot of light, or even full sun. I’ve grown many Tillandsia species that have very showy pink, yellow, white, or purple blooms, and many also have fragrant flowers. A favorite is T. mallemontii, which not only can be grown on the trunks of palms (in a lot of light), but as a clump hanging from a wire. Some other fragrant species are T. crocata, T. straminea, T. caliginosa, and T. diaguitensis.

Another positive attribute of the miniature Neoregelia and Tillandsia is the fact that mosquitoes can’t breed inside the leaf axils or center cups of these plants. There is just not enough water to sustain the mosquito larvae through their different growing stages.

Don’t forget, there is no excuse not to have a great bromeliad collection -- you just need to keep an eye out for mosquito larvae and treat the water or wash out the larvae. Or you can always grow bromeliads that won’t allow mosquitoes to breed in the first place.

 

Jeff Shimonski is an ISA-certified arborist municipal specialist, retired director of horticulture at Parrot Jungle and Jungle Island, and principal of Tropical Designs of Florida. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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