Bromeliads are a great drought tolerant addition to a shady landscape with some protection from frost or freeze. The nearly 2,000 species of bromeliads provide plant lovers with an unbelievable selection of form, color, size and blooming characteristics. Pineapples are a familiar plant in the bromeliad family, native to the American tropics. Did you know that another common member of this family is our native Spanish moss?
Some of the most popular bromeliads are Neoregelia, Aechmea and Billbergia, most of which have thorns on the margins of the leaves, and the thornless Guzmania and Vriesea. You can find a limited variety of these available at local garden centers.
• Neoregelia (Neo's) are probably the most popular because of their low growing habit and wide range of vibrant colors that they flush into during the blooming season followed by the tiny flowers down inside the "cup" at the center of the plant. You can find varieties with names like "Yin," or "Yang," "Mo Peppa Please," "Perfection," "Grace," "Painted Lady," "Moulten Lava," and "Hannibal Lector."
Most of these prefer bright light with a few hours of early or late sun, although some can tolerate more sun than others and a few need to be grown in the full sun.
• Aechmeas are typically taller than Neo's with less vivid leaves and somewhat vase like in shape. The inflorescence usually extends well above the foliage, and comes in many forms and colors lasting several months. Many of these plants will tolerate more than 6 hours of sun, or full sun. Some of these you will probably find are fasciata, "Blue Tango," "Lil Harve," "Shogun," "Bert," and "Rambo."
• Billbergia are typically a much narrower growing plant, the word fluted is often used to describe them, and they usually have a very bright pink bloom, which can be quite beautiful but unfortunately short lived. They can also have striking leaf patterns and colors as well as very delicate shapes. The most commonly grown one of these here is probably pyramidalis, a prolific green plant that looks ordinary until the entire bed of plants flush into bloom with vibrant pink/red spikes resulting in a beautiful show. Some of the names you may come across are "Hallelujah," "Delicioso," rosea and "Wendii."
• Guzmania and Vriesea have softer foliage than the previously discussed genera and the bonus of being thornless. Both have a long lasting showy, colorful inflorescence. Guzmania are mostly "trumpet" shaped, while Vriesea have a flattened "feather like" bloom spike. Vriesea are also grown for their stunning foliage. The vast majority of both of these genera grow best in shade.
For more information on growing bromeliads see "Bromeliads at a Glance": edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP33700.pdf
Source: Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Extension Agent, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Service, and Bob Albanese, Pinellas County Extension Horticulture Specialist. For additional landscape and garden information, visit pinellascountyextension.org, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/growpinellas for regular tips and information about what's growing in Pinellas County.