By: Carol Johnson

December 1995 FCBS newsletter

AECHMEA: Each species in the genus should be considered separately since the habitat covers nearly every geographic area where bromeliads are found. The Aechmeas of Brazil, Bolivia & Chile are more hardy than those from Central America, the Caribbean & Amazonian South America. Some require feeding, some are hurt by application of fertilizer. Nearly all do well when mounted provided they are started young, before the plants are heavy, but, remember that mounted plants require daily care indoors. Plant size ranges from very small to very large. Plants which will ultimately be large should be weighted at potting time with rocks in the bottom of the pot. After blooming, many Aechmeas produce colorful, attractive seeds, all of which are edible.

BILLBERGIA: With few exceptions this genus should be protected from freezing. Plants should be underpotted and fertilized very sparingly. Overfeeding produces lush, green growth at the expense of foliage color & it may take S generations of pups before color is restored. Those from subgenus Helicodea are the least cold hardy. Subgenus Billbergia species nearly all bloom during the winter months when their blooms, though fleeting, are welcome.

ANDROLEPIS ANANAS, ARAEOCOCCUS, ORTHOPHYTUM, X NEOPHYTUM: These have all been lumped together since they seem to thrive on similar treatment. Androlepis & Ananas (Pineapple) are large plants. The others are more manageable in size. All require strong light, rich soil, generous pot size, regular feeding and plenty of moisture. Most prefer warm weather and growth is slowed during winter months.

QUESNELIA, HOHENBERGIA, PORTEA, STREPTOCALYX: Until the switch to Aechmea is official, I shall continue to list Streptocalyx as a separate genus. There are some big, mean plants in these four genera. Quesnelia is the most cold hardy, most surviving outdoors under trees in Central Florida. Portea is the next hardiest, while Hohenbergia & Streptocalyx are always very tender. Strong light & cessation of feeding when the plants are mature produces best foliage color & pro-motes blooming. Be selective growing Hohenbergia. Many have nothing but size to recommend them, having green foliage & colorless blooms We list only the attractive forms. Streptocalyx have very spiny leaves, but are extremely beautiful in bloom. Grow warm, on the dry side & furnish lots of light.

CANISTRUM, CRYPTANTHUS, X CANMEA, NIDULARIUM; Here again, these take similar treatment. Cryptanthus are always terrestrial, but the other 3 can be grown mounted. All like rich soil, plenty of moisture, and should be fertilized regularly. A fairly low light level is important. Crypts & X Canmea do best in 60% shade, the rest tolerate even lower light levels. Nidulariums are tolerant of cold, wet conditions and are greatly under-rated. They are great as poolside specimens or under shrubbery in the yard. Because they resemble Neoregelias, they are often grown the same and the result is disappointing. Don't be alarmed if they drop lower leaves. That is normal for the genus. Treat Canistrum as Nidularium.

NEOREGELIA; Offsets of Neoregelia from the same plant, grown by two different people in different areas, can mature with very little resemblance to one another. The plants are very sensitive to light, fertilizer and pot size and these make a world of difference in the finished plant. Most do best when underpotted and underfed, grown on the dry side, and, here in Florida, subjected to as much strong light as they can endure. 50% shade is always safe. Neos do well outdoors in summer, but can pick up a lot of leaves & debris which makes them un-sightly. With good growing conditions the Neos give more satisfaction with less work than many other bromeliads. Set offsets upright in an empty pot for at least 10 days to harden off before potting, but keep water in the cup. Off-sets should not be taken or potted during short days.

THE PITCAIRNIOIDEAE: This subfamily was the forerunner of all bromeliads, evolving in the deep past from the grass family. All (Dyckia, Hechtia, Pitcairnia, Deuterocohnia, Fosterella) are terrestrials requiring copious amounts of water & fertilizer when grown as pot specimens. Either water daily or grow standing in saucers of water. Dyckia is from Brazil and very cold hardy. Hechtias are native from Texas thru Central America & are extremely tender. Pitcairnias are becoming more popular, even though the foliage is often grassy and sloppy. Blooms are spectacular red, yellow, orange. Pitcairnia habitat is damp creek banks and shady locations. They seem to enjoy a dormant, dry recess for several months during winter, which forces bloom when watering is resumed. Dyckias & Hechtias should be grown in strong sunlight, and since they have enormous root systems, need to be overpotted. There are no valid bi-generics in Pitcairnioideae.

TILLANDSIA: Collectors visualize Tillandsias as dry growing, sun-loving epiphytes. That is the exception rather than the rule. Those with the heaviest coat of peltate (fuzzy) scales will survive dry conditions best, but this is their mechanism for extracting moisture from the air. All of the Tillandsias need moisture. In the wild, many grow on tree limbs where they are protected by the foliage, nourished by bird droppings & leaf mold. Do not treat them all the sane. Research the habitat and treat accordingly. Greenhouse grown plants require applications of liquid fertilizer. Size span is 1/2 inch to 7 feet.

GUZMANIA: Low light, warm air, plenty of plant food and moist pot space. Guzmanias are truly tropical plants and frustrating for many new growers. Neglect of any sort is intolerable. Feed heavily and keep in a constant, stable environment. The Guzmania hybrids are easier to grow than the species and usually more spectacular. Grow outdoors at your own risk.

VRIESEA: These are the aristocrats of the bromeliaceae. They come small & huge, with plain green or exotically patterned and colorful, spineless foliage. The plants look fragile, but are probably the hardiest of all bromeliads. They have shallow root systems and should, therefore, be fed thru the leaves with liquid fertilizer. Dry conditions are tolerated better than wet, but surrounding air should be moist and cool. Some like strong light, but the general rule is 60-65% shade. Small to medium-size green leaved Vrieseas make the best showing when allowed to clump, and their bloom season is late winter.

FERTILIZER & POTTING SOIL: We add superphosphate & potash to our potting mix and top dress with slow release nitrogen fertilizer only as needed. This has improved the quality of our plants.
Just recently, I have begun the practice of introducing some lime (dolomite) into the potting mix when planting bromeliads which are naturally terrestrial. This includes nearly all the Pitcairnioideae, plus Orthophytum and especially the Cryptanthus which is very dependent on the soil mix for good growth.
Everyone has his/her own recipe for potting mix. Whatever works is good enough. I mix like I cook--a little of this and maybe a dash of that, them top with a little Osmocote and also cover that with some bark or sand so it doesn't wash away.