The family Bromeliaceae, commonly known as bromeliads, are a group of flowering plants native to the tropical regions of the Americas. These popular garden plants are particularly suited to Australia's mild winters and commonly cultivated throughout the country. With over 3,170 species in all, understanding and choosing the right bromeliad for a garden is tough. Whilst all bromeliads share some common characteristics, there are some broad group classifications, both common and uncommon, which allow gardeners to understand these fascinating plants easier.
The basic characteristics of a bromeliad are hard to pin down, which is why understanding the types and varieties is so tough. The breadth of options becomes more apparent once one understands all the possibilities this type of plant presents.
Common bromeliad traits
The rosette shape of bromeliad foliage is one of its most distinctive traits, and one that nearly all of the 3,000-plus species share. Outside of this basic characteristic, the look and design of different bromeliads vary greatly from type to type and species to species.
Characteristics of different types of bromeliads
In all, bromeliads may be anywhere from green and gold to maroon in colour. There are bromeliads that are spotted and variegated in colour as well as those with bold flowers. Their size may range from a mere 2 to 3 mm across to well over 10 metres tall. Some have broad, wide leaves, while others have grass-like spikes that look like teeth.
Though many bromeliad species thrive in humid, tropical environments, there are others that appear and behave much more like succulents. Most bromeliads require little in the way of water but do need protection from too much direct sunlight.
Types of bromeliads
The most commonly known bromeliad is actually most recognisable for its fruit. The pineapple is a species in the Ananas genus, which represents one of 57 different Bromeliaceae genera from three different subfamilies: Bromelioideae, Pitcairniodeae, and Tillandsoideae. In addition to Ananas, known for its presence in tropical climates and its presentation as a secure and large hedge, there are several other notable bromeliad genera.
With eight different subgenera and 255 species to its name, the genera Aechmea are one of the most prolific of the bromeliads. These plants are notable for their ability to grow and thrive indoors at most common household temperatures. They tend to grow in a tight rosette shape and require a large vase capable of holding up to a gallon of water in a reserve supply.
Notable for their bright and colourful flowers, the genus Billbergia includes two subgenera and 64 species. Growing swiftly and requiring little effort compared to other bromeliads, Billbergia have a leaner look than most other genera and grow taller than they do wide.
The common names of the genus Crypanthus, which include "earth stars", "zebra plants", and "pheasant leaves", reveal the stunning characteristics of this bromeliad group, which produces deep blooming, "hidden" flowers. With two subgenera and over 50 species, Crypanthus are relatively small and easy to grow, making them a popular choice for house plants.
With over 200 different species recognised within this genus, there are many different Guzmania bromeliads to grow. The most popular one, the Scarlett Star, is an indoor and outdoor plant notable for its large clumps of flowers, a trait common among Guzmania bromealids. Requiring warm temperatures and high humidity, Guzmania thrive particularly well in greenhouses.
Comprising an incredible 540 different species, the genus Tillansia is the largest in all the bromeliad family. As such, there is an incredible range of plant types and styles within this genus, including both thin- and thick-leaf varieties that like both dry and wet environments. As such, they exist from as far north as the southern United States to as far south as Argentina in their natural habitat.
A favourite for indoor gardens, the genus Vriesea includes 350 different species. These often large plants closely resemble those in the genus Guzmania because of their dry pod capsules similar in look to dandelions. They are rootless and have distinct, blunt-edged green leaves.