This botanical group or genus of plants, Bromelia, gives rise to the common name "bromeliad" assigned to all members of the bromeliad family, Bromeliaceae. About 50 different species exist in the dry, sunny highlands of tropical America. The large, sharply spined leaves form a rounded rosette and produce a red-orange and white flower stalk in summer followed by yellow fruits. Grow it outdoors in USDA Hardiness Zone 10 and warmer, where winter frosts do not occur.
In order to produce densely shaped plants with attractive leaves, ensure that any species of Bromelia receives as much sunlight as possible. Outdoors provide it with at least 8 hours of direct sun daily, and if grown indoors as a house plant, very bright indirect light and as much direct sun from windows as possible. Adequate light also guarantees timely development and coloration of the flower stalk in summer. In arid, very hot summer areas, some shading across the midday benefits these plants.
Native to rocky highlands, all Bromelia species are ground-dwellers and grow best in a gritty soil mix that contains some organic matter for moisture and nutrition. Ideally, the gritty soil mixture has an acidic to neutral pH (5.5 to 7.0). A cactus-succulent potting mix works well. This is in stark contrast to many other types of bromeliads like Tillandsia or Aechmea that are epiphytes and need to be mounted upon a tree or wedged into coarse bark, not planted in soil.
In the summertime, daytime temperatures from 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit are perfect, but slightly cooler and more comfortable temperatures cause much slower growth rates. Most Bromelia species should not be exposed to prolonged temperatures below 55 degrees, although they can survive a brief encounter with 30 to 35 degrees on one or two nights each winter.
Although drought tolerant, provide ample water during the heat of spring and summer for lushest growth and most magnificent colors and sizes of flower stalks. Provide 1 to 2 inches of air-temperature water weekly in the well-draining soil. Reduce to only 1 inch by late summer, and keep soil barely moist, if not dry, through the fall and winter.
In general, do not worry about applying fertilizer to the soil around Bromelia species plants. A little compost scattered atop the soil in spring and summer provides enough nourishment; fertilizers cause fast, scrawny growth and shorter-lived plants.
Wear gloves when watering or working around species of Bromelia because of the stiff, recurving spines lining the leaves. Monitor for scale insects on plants not in full sunlight. These bromeliads slowly decline after the flower stalk fades, but small young plants called pups sprout from the mother plant's base before it fully dies. Cut away the mother plant when leaves brown to allow more light and resources to nourish the replacement pups.