Skip to main content

Bromeliads: An Interesting Plant With a Myriad of Unique Features

Bromeliads come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors and can be classified into three main groups: terrestrial, epiphytic, and saxicolous. Terrestrial bromeliads grow in soil, epiphytic bromeliads grow on other plants and surfaces, and saxicolous bromeliads grow on rocks.

The most well-known bromeliad is probably the pineapple, which is a terrestrial bromeliad. Other popular bromeliads include the Spanish moss (despite it's name it is, indeed a bromeliad), the tillandsia and the neoregelia.

Bromeliads are relatively easy to care for, and can be grown indoors or outdoors depending on the species. They prefer bright, indirect light and well-draining soil. They also require regular watering and fertilization.

Bromeliads are propagated by offsets, also called "pups," which grow from the base of the mother plant. They can also be propagated by seed, but this is a slower process. They are very popular in the horticultural world and used in many different ways, including as houseplants, in gardens or as accents in landscaping. They are also popular as cut flowers, and as such are used in many floral arrangements.

The Spanish Moss plant is actually not in the moss family.  It is, in fact, an  epiphytic bromeliad that receive its water from the air.

The Spanish Moss plant is actually not in the moss family. It is, in fact, an epiphytic bromeliad that receive its water from the air.

Bromeliads Provide a Mini-Ecosystem

Some species of bromeliads, known as "air plants," are able to survive for long periods of time without soil and rely on the air for their nutrients. They can grow on rocks, tree branches or other surfaces.

They are particularly unique in that they have a special structure called a "tank" or "cup" that forms at the base of their leaves. This structure is used to hold water and can be used as a mini-ecosystem for other plants and animals, such as mosquitoes and frogs.

Symbiotic Relationship With Frogs

Frogs rely on bromeliads in several ways.

  • The structure at the base of bromeliad leaves creates a small pond of water that frogs can use as a breeding ground. The water in the tank is typically clean and free of predators, making it a safe place for frogs to lay their eggs.
  • The tanks also provide a source of food for the frogs. Many species of bromeliads host a wide variety of insects and other small organisms that can serve as a food source for the frogs.
  • Some species of frogs are known to live almost exclusively in bromeliads. For example, the red-eyed tree frog and the strawberry poison dart frog are known to live among the leaves of bromeliads. These frogs use the plants as shelter, and they are able to camouflage themselves among the leaves to avoid predators.
  • Bromeliads also provide a humid microclimate that some species of frogs need to survive, which is particularly beneficial for species that live in areas with a dry season.

The relationship between frogs and bromeliads is an example of mutualism, a symbiotic relationship in which both the frog and the bromeliad benefit. The frogs use the bromeliads for shelter and food, while the bromeliads benefit from the frogs by receiving their waste as a form of fertilizer.

Red-Eyed Tree Frog on a Bromeliad

Scroll to Continue
The most widely-consumer terrestrial bromeliad plant is the pineapple, cultivated in many places around the world.

The most widely-consumer terrestrial bromeliad plant is the pineapple, cultivated in many places around the world.

Terrestrial Bromeliads

Terrestrial bromeliads grow in soil. They have a number of unique traits that distinguish them from other types of bromeliads, which include the following:

  1. They have a well-developed root system that allows them to anchor themselves in soil and absorb water and nutrients.
  2. Terrestrial bromeliads can vary in size and shape, but many are relatively large and can grow up to several feet tall. They typically have a rosette of leaves that forms a central "tank" or "cup" to hold water.
  3. The leaves of terrestrial bromeliads are typically stiff and glossy, with sharp edges. They are often arranged in a rosette shape and can be smooth or serrated.
  4. Terrestrial bromeliads can have a wide range of colors, from green to red, pink, orange and yellow.
  5. Terrestrial bromeliads typically have bright, colorful flowers that are produced on a stalk or spike. They can be large and showy, or small and delicate.
  6. Some terrestrial bromeliads will produce fruits, such as the pineapple, which is a terrestrial bromeliad.
  7. Adaptable to a wide range of conditions, they can be found in many different habitats, from rainforests to deserts.
  8. The offsets produced by terrestrial bromeliads can be propagated to create new plants.
Bromeliads growing on rocks in this Florida landscape.

Bromeliads growing on rocks in this Florida landscape.

Epiphytic vs. Saxicolous Bromeliads

Epiphytic and saxicolous bromeliads are two different types of bromeliads that have different characteristics and adaptations.

  1. Epiphytic bromeliads grow on other plants, such as trees and shrubs, and also on rocks and walls, while saxicolous bromeliads grow on rocks and rocky surfaces.
  2. The root systems of epiphytic bromeliads are very limited; they rely on their leaves to absorb water and nutrients from the air. Saxicolous bromeliads, while they, too, have limited root systems, they also receive nutrients from the surfaces of rocks on which they have grown.
  3. Epiphytic bromeliads are adapted to grow in high humidity environments, and can be found in tropical and subtropical climates such as rainforests, tropical woodlands and cloud forests. Saxicolous bromeliads are adapted to grow in dry and hot environments and are commonly found in desert and semi-desert regions.
  4. Epiphytic bromeliads typically have a central tank that holds water, but the water is not as crucial for their survival as for saxicolous bromeliads, which rely heavily on the water stored in their central tank.
  5. Epiphytic bromeliads can have a wide range of colors, while saxicolous bromeliads are typically green or gray in color, due to the high light and heat to which they are exposed.
  6. Some species of epiphytic bromeliads produce fruits, while saxicolous bromeliads typically do not produce fruits.
  7. Like terrestrial bromeliads, both epiphytic and saxicolous bromeliads will produce offsets that can be propagated to create new plants.

Fruits of Epiphytic Bromeliads

Not all epiphytic bromeliads produce fruits, but some species do. The fruits can vary in size, shape and color, depending on the species, and all are edible but not very flavorful. Some examples of epiphytic bromeliads that produce fruits include:

  1. Tillandsia: This genus produces small, fleshy fruits that are typically red or purple in color.
  2. Guzmania: This genus of epiphytic bromeliads produces small, fleshy fruits that are typically orange or red in color.
  3. Vriesea: This genus of epiphytic bromeliads produces small, fleshy fruits that are typically red or orange in color. Aechmea: This genus of epiphytic bromeliads produces small, fleshy fruits that are typically red or orange in color.
  4. Neoregelia: This genus of epiphytic bromeliads produces small, fleshy fruits that are typically red or orange in color.

Many epiphytic bromeliads do not produce fruits and the fruits produced by some species can be insignificant.

Different Techniques for Growing Pineapple

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

Related Articles