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There are more than 50 genera of bromeliads, and many can be grown successfully as houseplants. The most commonly cultivated genera include the following.

Aechmea. Most of the Aechmea species are epiphytic. They have deep cups to hold water and outstanding foliage all year long. They have broadly bowl-shaped rosettes with arching leaves. The leaves are leathery, strap-like and may be solid, spotted, striped or banded, but all have spiny edges. The cylindrical, cone-like upright or pendant inflorescences have large, colorful bracts that remain in color for weeks or even months. They spectacular inflorescences are often red, pink or orange, with blue, yellow or black flowers. Fleshy, bright red or blue berries often follow the flowers. Most of Aechmea species are easy to grow, but they need bright light in order to develop well. Aechmea fasciata, one of the most popular bromeliads of this genus, is often called the urn or living vase plant because it appears to have provided a vase for its predominately pink inflorescence.

Common Bromeliads

Ananas. The commercial edible pineappleAnanas comosus – is a member of this genus. There is also a variegated form of this species – Ananas comosus variegates – that has green, cream and pink striped leaves that form rosettes of 60 cm or more across. There is also a smaller species – Ananas nanus – that is commonly grown as an interior plant. It has arching, 30-40 cm grayish-green leaves surrounding a 40 cm spike of red buds resembling a pincushion. The buds open into purple flowers, which are followed by a 5 cm high, fragrant, edible pineapple.

Billbergia. This genus is similar to Aechmea genus but its rosettes generally have only a few leaves that form a narrow tube or vase. Billbergias are usually epiphytic, tall and urn-shaped, with spiny edged leaves that often have white or silver spots or banding, especially on the undersides. Although short-lived, inflorescences are very colorful. The inflorescences are mainly pendent and only last a couple of weeks, so they are grown primarily as foliage plants rather than flowering plants. The inflorescence is covered with pink, coral or red bracts and the flowers range from almost colorless to deep violet. Few are fragrant. They are easy to grow and are nice as hanging plants, since they often look best when viewed from below. Another attractive feature is that they tolerate dry air and can survive neglect better than most other plants.

Cryptanthus. This genus contains plants that are small, terrestrial, sometimes stoloniferous, with nearly flat, basal, symmetrically arranged, star-shaped rosettes that do not hold water, variously colored mottled or stripped leaves. Plants of this genus are commonly referred to as “earth stars” because of their leaves growing habit. Bromeliads from this genus are grown mainly as foliage plants but their tiny flowers are very attractive. In most cultivars the inconspicuous white, light green or pink flowers are nested low in the center of the rosette. The leaves are succulent, often have wavy and toothed margins and are generally strongly banded or frosted with gray, white or bronze, often on a pink to red background color. Some popular cultivars have very elaborate banding with sharp zigzag patterns. Some have narrow, almost grassy, leaves. Bromeliads from this genus are moisture-loving and are good for terrariums.

Dyckia. This is another terrestrial genus with species whose rosettes do not hold water. The succulent leaves are very stiff and spiny. Some species have green leaves, but most appear gray-green or white from the dense scale covering. Most species clump, forming large mats. Small, bright yellow or orange flowers are borne on unbranched spikes that emerge from between the leaves instead of from the center as with other bromeliads. The rosette does not die after flowering as it does in most bromeliad species. This genus needs very bright light and will tolerate months of drought, but need copious amounts of water during the growing season.

Guzmania. Bromeliads in this genus are tank bromeliads, having thin, glossy, strap-like, smooth-edged leaves, which form a water-holding rosette. They are mostly epiphytic, however, a few are terrestrial. The leaves are generally dark green, but a few are colored, and shiny with smooth margins. There are thin brown, purple or maroon lines, which run parallel along the length of the leaves. The fountain-like inflorescences have large, brightly colored bracts in yellow, green, purple, scarlet or red that last for months. Clusters of red, white or yellow flowers appear from behind the bracts on a terminal spike. These species come from shadier habitats than most other bromeliads, so will do well in lower light conditions..

Neoregelia. Bromeliads from this genus are all tank types. These epiphytic bromeliads develop blue or white flowers just above the water level in the cup. The rosettes are generally broad but some are vase-shaped. The leaves vary considerably among these species, and may be green, banded, striped, or spotted with various colors. Some of the species develop red leaf tips and are often called “painted fingernail”. The center leaves of many species turn bright pink, purple or red at maturity. The leaf margins are normally serrated, but not spiny. These plants are grown primarily for their colorful foliage. The inconspicuous inflorescence barely raises above the water in the center of the plant, with small white, blue or lavender flowers. These species develop the best color in strong light and with cool night temperatures.

Nidularium. Plants in this genus are often confused with those in the genus Neoregelia as they both have bird’s nest type flower heads. However, Nidularium inflorescence shows the bracts rather distinctly while the inflorescence is buried in the leaf rosette of Neoregelia. These medium-sized, epiphytic plants have broad, flexible, lightly spiny leaves that form an open rosette.

Tillandsia. This genus is the largest, most diverse and widely distributed genus in the bromeliad family. Most are epiphytic, except for a few species that grow on rocks. Plant species vary in size from tiny to large. Some species have leaves that are tough and string-like. Others have soft, thin, strap-like leaves. Many others have strange growth form, with curling, twisted, or otherwise distorted leaves. In still others the lower part of the leaf is spoon shaped. Most do not form tanks and have gray-green leaves. The smooth-margined leaves are densely covered with fuzzy scales that give the plants their characteristic color. Rosettes vary from very symmetrical to highly contorted. Inflorescences are quite variable also. They range from barely visible to long, multi-branched spikes. The spikes are often colorful and the pink, red or lavender bracts enclosing the flowers are usually the showiest part. Some species have fragrant flowers. The duration of flowering varies considerably by species, from a couple of weeks to a full year. Tillandsias require more humidity than tank bromeliads and tend to dehydrate in the dry air of most homes, but can still be grown successfully with more frequent watering – misting is not adequate.

Vriesea. This genus is the second largest but most hybridized and cultivated genus in the bromeliad family. They are mostly tank epiphytes, with the rosettes forming broad vases. These are medium size, mostly epiphytic plants with soft or firm, variously green but often spotted, blotched or distinctly marked leaves. The smooth-margined leaves are either shiny green or patterned with scales or translucent windows. The spectacular inflorescences are most flattened, creating a sword-shaped appearance. The single or branched, usually long-lasting inflorescences, have yellow, green or white flowers and brightly colored, overlapping bracts of brilliant red or yellow that last for months. The inflorescences may be upright like a spear, pendulous or even curved. They adapt to a wide range of conditions and generally make good houseplants but are very susceptible to injury from cold temperatures.

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