In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
December, 2004
Regional Report

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You water this type of bromeliad by keeping water in the center tank.

Bromeliads: A Festive Fixation

Bromeliads are festive plants, perfect for this festive season. In case you weren't paying attention in botany class, bromeliads include the pineapple, which happens to be one of my favorites among edible fruit -- especially at holiday parties. The pineapple is typical of bromeliads in that it has a rosette of interesting foliage arranged in a spiral pattern.

Bromeliads are primarily warm-climate plants from the new world, and as with so many other fascinating hothouse tropicals, they were gathered and kept under glass by Victorian exotic-plant collectors. Even before that, whole fresh pineapple fruits were favored to create the focal point of fancy banquet table decorations and seasonal fruit displays. In historic Williamsburg, for example, you will see them in recreated holiday wreaths. Luckily for me, fresh pineapple is now far more attainable, available, and affordable at the local grocery store.

Different Types
You do not have to harvest and eat a bromeliad to enjoy one at home! Nowadays they still make great houseplants and are increasingly available at nurseries and plant shops. Some bromeliads are epiphytic, meaning they grow anchored (harmlessly) on other plants, such as trees; some are terrestrial, meaning they grow with roots in soil; and some grow on rocks. The epiphytes are my favorites because their leaves grow tightly together at the center of the plant to form what is called a tank. The cup-shaped tank holds water, and caring for these babies basically consists of keeping a little water in the tank. How simple is that! The key here is to research your type so you know where it originated and thus how to water it correctly.

Among the most festive bromeliads, there is actually a Neoregelia named 'Christmas Cheer'. There are hundreds and hundreds of bromeliad cultivars with names as colorful as the plants themselves. There is an eye-popping variety of sizes, shapes, and coloring, so much so that I think these plants may rival the hostas in esoteric differences.

And yes, bromeliads do produce scapes and bloom with an effect that is always interesting, if not exactly floral-looking. This, too, is a bit of a mixed blessing in that after blooming the mother plant dies, leaving behind a legacy of baby plants called pups.

In any case, bromeliads offer us cheerfully exotic looks and stunningly easy care. In my book, that's a great combination no matter what the cultivar might be named. Did I mention they are addictively collectible, too? If you need a new hobby for the coming year, this just may be the thing.

Here's wishing you a festive and happy holiday season, and may your new year be peaceful and prosperous, with home and garden full of bromeliads -- or whatever flips your trowel!


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