Bromeliads naturally come from the Americas, mainly South America but also from lower North America and the Caribbean. Only one species comes from Africa. There are over 3,000 species of Bromeliads from 56 genera and there are thousands of hybrids. In their native habitats, Bromeliads grow in such varied conditions, from sea level to 4,200m, and in rain forests to  deserts. There is a Bromeliad suited to most environments. There are a variety of different Bromeliads sold in Zimbabwe, which grow very well in our climate.

Bromeliads in John Hibberts garden

Bromeliads have specially constructed leaf rosettes, capable of holding water, in the centre and theses are known as vases or tanks. They are different from other plants and have special cells in these leaves, which can absorb water and food. Bromeliads rely heavily on the storage of water and nutrients in the central vase to survive during unfavourable months, making them water wise. Generally, their roots are very small and only used to anchor them to branches of trees etc.

As Bromeliads are such a large family and come from such varied habitats, it is difficult to give exact care instructions for each species. Here are a few general rules for looking after them.

Most Bromeliads will grow happiest in dappled shade. If the shade is too deep they will not flower very well and will not have much colour in their flowers, also plants with coloured leaves will generally just be a deep green. Too much direct midday sun will burn their leaves. As a rule, Bromeliads with thick, leathery leaves usually with a darker colour (purples and reds) and thorns on the leaves can take more sun than the green thinner leaved types.

Bromeliads like dappled shade

Bromeliads are pretty drought tolerant and as long as they have water in their centre vase, they will survive happily. They do not like their roots to be sodden, especially in heavy soils. Flowering The flower on a Bromeliad lasts between two to four months, depending on the type. Each Bromeliad plant will only flower once but will happily grow for a year or more. Depending on the type of Bromeliad, it may take up to a year, or over two years, to flower again.

The soil must be a light, free draining mix with lots of organic matter. They dislike heavy clay soils that do not drain quickly.

After flowering, the mother plant will produce several pups, which start growing between the leaves. When these pups are half the size of the mother they can either be gently removed from the mother plant or left on to grow as a clump. If you chose to remove each of the pups, gently wiggle them from side to side and they will come loose from the mother plant. Let these pups dry for a couple of days then plant them up in a free draining mix. In a few months, they will be fully rooted. Do not throw the mother plant away as she will keep on producing more pups.

Bromeliads are generally easy to grow and are pest free plants. The majority of problems stem from growing conditions that are incorrect. Brown tips on leaves may be an indication of too much water and plants may rot entirely. This is especially true if the soil is too heavy and constantly wet. Do not stand your pot plants in trays constantly containing water – trays are a big killer of potted plants. If your plant is not flowering again, there could be several reasons:
• Depending on the type of plant, it may only flower once a year but could take more than two years to flower again – be patient.
• Too much shade can be a factor, especially if your plant is deep green, growing slowly and not
flowering – try moving your plant into an area where it gets more light.
• Try fertilising with a bit of weak liquid fertiliser.

Dogs and especially puppies are attracted to the smell of stagnant water in the centre of your  Bromeliads and will often eat or pull the centre out of your prized plants. Gently flushing out the central vase of your plant with fresh water will hopefully deter them. Even if your dog has eaten all the leaves, try planting the remaining root, it may produce a new plant.

If you find mosquitoes breeding in the centre of your Bromeliads, again gently flush the stagnant water out of the centre of your plant using your hosepipe.

By John Hibbert

John Hibbert and his Bromeliads
John has an amazing collection of Bromeliads, which he has collected from all over the world. He also grows orchids, palms, cacti, succulents and other rare and unusual plants, which he sells at a varierty of nurseries in Harare, Bulawayo and Chinhoyi. He also sells small to medium hobby green houses. Contact John on 0773 760 418 to make an appointment to see his nursery in Waterfalls.

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