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Bromeliads - © Lloyd Godman 

Growing Bromeliads

Natural range

Plants from the Bromeliad family naturally populate a huge area from the bottom of South America all the way to Florida and across the great South American Continent. As you can imagine, conditions these plants grow in range wildly from the very shores of the ocean where salt winds blow in from the sea to high altitude mountains with cold dry winds with sleet and night frost - from humid jungles to extremely arid deserts - from areas where the yearly temperature is stable within 5 -10 degrees to areas where the temperature variation is huge in a single day - in the case of Tillandsia Tectorum -15 to 45 degrees C - from areas where the sun is bright and very hot with no shade to areas of deep shade.

In short there is a Bromeliad that will grow in many areas of the planet, but it it is not necessarily so that all plants from this family can be grown in one location, and if they could, they would never reach there full potential. Some plants like Tillandsia Bergeri need a cool period to stimulate flowering, others need warmth. Also take into account that a plant that struggles and eventually dies in one area of a single small backyard garden may thrive less than 10m away where the conditions are very different. So when one reads information that a certain plant will or wont grow in a ceratin state or country it is a very rough guide. The acid test is to use the best information available, and try it yourself. I begin growing the plant in a sympathetic condition and gradually move it to a more extreme position. I often do this with pups from the original parent plant, that way I have a back up plant to fall back on. Most often the plants surprise me with the conditions they can tolerate. If the plant begins to suffer I move it again to another position.

Tillandsia care

Rotting – Behind the methodology

January 13, 2011 at 8:56 PM (Articles and misc.Tillandsia

What are the two main elements that derive a rotting Tillandsia? Over watering and lack of air circulation are the two main contributing factors that lead to a rotting Tillandsia. However, even without water, Tillandsia will inevitably rot due to insufficient air circulation although the process of over watering augments the effects of it.

It is becoming difficult to ignore the fact that these are the two crucial aspect of growing Tillandsia. How can one make sure there are sufficient airflow and sufficient breeze to keep the Tillandsia happy?
A general rule will be a slight breeze passing through the exterior of the leaves and towards you. A constant airflow will be sufficient.

The purpose of air circulation aids in the exchange of gases and the removal of harmful bacteria and virus away from the Tillandsia. Additionally, without sufficient air circulation, the Tillandsia dies a slow and painful death. The reason why air circulation is so crucial to the fundamental success of growing Tillandsia, is they live in high places in situ.

Hence, the constant airy condition is what they are asking for. So placement of Tillandsia indoor can be a challenging aspect, however, a good gauge is as close as possible to the outside.
Once Tillandsia have sufficient air circulation, the rotting process is diminish in a large scale, but overwatering comes into play. When you put it in an airy environment, the Tillandsia tend to dry up a tad quicker and that is also the reason why you water more often. Watering at night is a dangerous and risky methodology in gardening aspect. It remains true to CAM plants, whereby they absorb CO2 at night, and by watering them at night, robs away their chance to complete the CAM process. Like I’ve mentioned at the hort park talk that in theory it is not a good practice, however, I’m the one who goes along the grain with it. I water them at night for as long as I’ve remembered keeping Tillandsia.

The reason why I did this is due to certain circumstances, firstly, the air conditioning has a lower humidity and secondly, its cooler too. So what might those two factor contributes to me watering at night?

Reason being is simple, the low humidity quickly dries out the Tillandsia leaves giving them sufficient time to continue the process of absorbing CO2 at night. The second factor is that Tillandsia opens their stomata according to the temperature. A high noon time temperature forces the stomata to remain close for as long as the temperature remains high. Hence, with lower temperature, it improves the breathing process. Taken together, once the low humidity dries the surface of the Tillandsia leaves, the ambient low temperature quickly provides the stomata to open and continue the process.

So theoretically speaking, CAM plants do not like watering at night for long periods. However, I believe that given adequate low night time temperature and humidity, will give you even more flexibility in terms of watering timing. However, as like most perspective, having low night time temperature and humidity has its disadvantages too. One of them is that Tillandsia dries out quicker than you can provide water for them.

In other words, if you miss watering for 2-3 days, the effects of dehydration are clearly evident. Well we can’t win all can we?
Speaking of the two factors, air and water, both should be harmonising together learning that one depends on one another and not as a differentiated aspect. For this reason, it is conclusive that without air-circulation will certainly bring the demise of your Tillandsia, but without water, no living things will survive.



If a plant is taken from a shady position and placed in full summer sun the leaves will most likely yellow or even burn and the plant might suffer, where as if the plant is moved in early spring it more likely it will adjust with no stress at all. Imagine a plant that looks amazing in a plant shop with luxurious foliage and bright flower spike, we are seduced into a purchase. However the plant might have been grown under optimum conditions in Queensland, gassed before the plant is mature to induce flowering, then offered for sale in May in Melbourne. The eminent demise of the plant is almost guaranteed and over the next few months it fails and dies. The fact that most people do not understand how these plants grow compounds the problem. They see the plant looking sick and over water thebase and roots. However there might be another example of the same species of plant that does not look as flash, but it might be locally hard grown and easily able to withstand the conditions. So the source of a plant can effect the establishment.



Climate cycles

Take into account that conditions alter from season to season, year to year. Some Neorgelia plants I grew during a period of years when it was hot and dry grew well with good colour, however this period was followed with 2-3 years of 3 times as much rain and the trees they grew under produced a much denser canopy of leaves. The local climate altered which restricted the light falling on the plants below. The Neoregelia leaves grew longer and more strappy, had far less colour and flowered about 4 weeks later than in previous years.

For this reason many Bromeliad growers use pots to grow their plants and move them around accordingly. Fortunately many Bromeliads do not produce deep root systems and even when planted in the ground are easily moved from one location to another. We will examine the root system and other biological strategies that make move in Bromeliads easy.




Many Bromeliads are epiphytic, which means they grow on another plant or tree for attachment or support but they take no nourishment from the host. There are various degrees of ephiphytism among Bromeliads. Some plants that grow attached to a tree might fall off, or the branch might break and they continue growing on the ground. When establishing some Bromeliads as an epiphytes, it can be easier to grow them in a loose potting mix in pots, then once they have established as a clump move them to a tree or other support. Because we are conditioned to think that most plants grow in the ground, Bromeliads are most often planted in the ground, when they are just as happy growing in a tree.

Aechmea Gamospala growing on a tree as an epiphyte


Trichomes and water up take

To varying degrees all Bromeliads have trichomes. These are small scale or hair like cells that have the ability to absorb moisture into the plant. Some species have very few, and they are difficult to see with the naked eye, others are festooned with trichomes to the point where they cover the entire plant.

Tillandsias ( air Plants ) are covered in fine silver scales called trichomes which reflect up to 93% of sunlight. When moisture hits these bowl like cells they instantly open absorbing moisture and nutrients into the plant - then when the water pressure inside the plant is greater than outside they close locking in the gained water. On some Bromeliads like Billbergia Horrida the trichomes show as a distinct banding that adds to the attractiveness of the plant.


Cam Cycle

Through what is called a CAM cycle these plants photosynthesis at night, taking in carbon and releasing oxygen, which allows them to close their stomata during the heat of the day to conserve water, in fact if the climate demands, they can close the stomata for weeks and even months.


trichomes show as white silver cells- in this plant even on the red flower bracts

The trichomes of this Tillandsia cover the entire leaf surface with a hair like structure.


Trichome patterns

Trichomes on the leaves of Bromeliads vary a great deal. On some plants they can be arranged flat on the surface and be invisible to the naked eye, on other plants they can cover an entire leaf with an even pattern of long hair like cells. On some plants the trichomes are arranged in patterns, often bands across the leaf.

In this Billbergia the trichomes show as a banded pattern.

Leaf colours and patterns in Bromeliads

















Bromeliad Flowers



Tillandsia Flowers

Bromeliad flowers are most often small and short lived, however the inflorescence and bracts which can be highly coloured can survive for many months. As the plant begins to form the flowers, the inflorescence and bracts colour well before the flowers open and can keep this colour for a long time after flowering.


Tillandsia flower parts, lloyd godman

Illustration of Tillandsia flower parts






flower with protruding stamens - cross section not keeled


flower with confined stamens - cross section keeled