First of all, you rejoice! For they were free! Ripped from a wall of tangled vines and epiphytes and lying on the greenhouse floor of my favorite botanical garden in South West Florida. Where I happen to be a volunteer.
"Are they going to be thrown out?" I asked with the eagerness of every scrounging plant lover, and that would be all of us.
"Yes," replied the young man sweeping them up. He agreed that tossing stuff was difficult and set some aside for me to rescue, upon my leaving. He set aside alot, but I restrained myseslf, because I had mentioned this opportunity to other staff, and now I had to share.
Did I know the plants' names? No. Did I care? Not this time. They were free! I chose five or six and drove home happy. When I walked in and showed Mr. We've-Alread-Got-Too-Many-Plants, I announced their cost and added for emphasis, "Do you know how much these would cost if you had to buy them?" I had no idea, actually, and ignoring his mumbled, "I wouldn't buy them", I pranced them out to the lanai which now looks like a potting shed tastefully decorated in white wicker.
Since I have other bromeliads and had had to find out about culture, I was pretty secure in what I had to do. (By the way, the correct pronunciation is 'broh-mee-lee-ad. I've never heard anyone say anything but 'broh-mil-ee-ad'. Ever.)
First, make a stab at identification. They look guzmania-ish to me. I checked my limited bromeliad book supply and that's what they were all right. I decided to mount these to my long-suffering river willow because he has many sturdy trunks. I have two trellises propped against these trunks that hold my orchid pots. Other orchids and orchid cactii hang from lower limbs. He is a tree who needs therapy for his identity crisis.
For those of you not quite sure what a bromeliad is, I digress. Where are my manners? Most are plants growing in a stemless rosette of leaves, sometimes referred to as a tank or cup. About half of the species subsist on air, more or less. One of the most familiar is Spanish Moss. Yes, indeed. (It is not a rosette of leaves.) It is fertilized by the minerals that wash down from the trees by rainwater. That lovely grey wispy curtain plant is a cousin of the other well-known and beloved bromeliad, the pineapple. The pineapple top shape is typical of most bromeliad structure.
Some bromeliads can be grown in pots, though the grey leaved ones don't do as well. A very loose soil medium, augmented with vermiculate, or even orchid fir bark suits them all right. A medium on the acid side makes them happy. Though they will grow in garden beds, garden soil in pots rarely works. The important thing is to ensure quick draining. Many are epiphytes, which means they grow on trees, putting out clinging roots that keep them secured. They would look lovely in a coir-lined open hanging basket, too.
In nature they collect water in their cups, which the plant owner will have to supply. Flush out the cups every few days so that the water does not become stagnant. And please, no softened water. The salts are damaging. Also, I've heard mixed opinions, but in case mosquito larva do thrive in that water, flushing is important. So is refilling.
They may be fertilized infrequently around the roots in the ground with very weak fertilizer. That is, a third or a fourth the recommended strength. Some growers never fertilize. NEVER put fertilizer in the cup. This can result in the burning of newly emerging leaves. Slow release pellets are also good.
Our main concern with my foundlings, however, is that I'm going to mount them for outdoor life. I found for myself that mounting on bark for inside the house is impractical for they must be misted and removed to the sink for watering, and well, you get the picture. I moved to Florida so that I could stick everything outdoors and mist it with a hose. So that is where mine are.
When I first mounted a bromeliad, I was amazed that two handy household products would be my allies. Namely, Liquid Nails, and a hot glue gun. I choose Liquid Nails because the idea of putting hot glue on anything living gives me chills. (I've had some memorable creative craft incidents.) One can use any nice slab of wood; there are many sold for the purpose. If you choose to use your own sea driftwood, soak it for several days in fresh water to leach out any salts. If your collected wood has been beautifying the garden for some time and been rained on alot, it is probably all right.
Check the base of your plant just above the place where the roots and leaves separate. That is where you will want to attach your plant to your driftwood, orchid bark, or tree. Some stretchy green garden tape will help hold it in place until the plant begins to get serious about hanging on for itself.
A word of caution: if you are picturing your bromeliads hanging gracefully from your wooden fence, don't. Such wood has probably been treated with a copper product to prevent its rotting and when that leaks onto your plant it will kill it. Sorry. That's where I was going to put mine, too.
In Florida most can be put right into the ground. Our soil is not overly rich-translation sand-and drains quickly. They make great ground covers. After the mother plant blooms, it will die, but by then you will have several little pups at its base. They can be divided and used separately as soon as they are of decent size and display enough root stock of their own. Or you can let them spread away where they are.
A word about placement in the yard. Light needs are variable. Greyish leaved ones can take some direct Florida sun, which is Hot! These will also have the toughest feeling leaves. The all green,or green and red will do better in light shade or dappled shade. Their leaves will have a more pliable, thin feel. To preserve high color in very colorful kinds, good strong light is suggested. Many can take sun. It is important to buy from a grower who gives you good culture directions for the plant you buy. If you got a deal at the home center, and don't know, check out the booklet, Bromeliads-a Cultural Manual put out by the Bromeliad Society, Inc. You can find them on the web.
If you'd like to produce your own bromeliad from scratch, buy a nice ripe sweet-smelling fresh pineapple. One with yellow showing along its design. Cut off the top an inch or so down into the fruit. Peel off the bottom couple of rows of leaves. You may even see little nubs there where the new roots will form. Let it sit out for a couple of days to dry. Then simply place it into a pot of loose potting mix up to the leaves, and water. You'll be amazed that it will take hold and take off all by itself! It will make a little pineapple on its top eventually.
To hasten the blooming of such plants put them into a plastic bag with a ripe banana or apple for a couple of days. The ethylene gas produced by the other fruits will do the job!
A word about bloom. The flower spikes are so varied and exotic that it would be difficult to describe them here. Some plants have richly colored tiny blooms down in the cups. Others send up colored spikes from which emerge the true blossomes of pink, orange, blue, whatever. The spikes themselves are works of art. Whatever you get, it will not be disappointing. They are varied and amazing.
I just learned that I can plant mine at the base of the willow and let them climb up by themselves, eventually. Maybe the tree can deal with that better than another indignity by me. I hope so. He has seemed to be coming around lately, and I don't want to set him back.
The Bromeliad Society, Inc. Pictures and culture.