The word "bromeliad" refers to a group of plants, rather than a single plant, in the family Bromeliaceae.
A 2006 review of the family revealed 56 known genera and 3,086 taxa with a widely varying growth habitat.
These strange, yet stunning, plants can be found growing mostly as epiphytes, or air plants. However, some species in the Bromeliaceae family are lithophytes, growing in rocks or rock cavities; and others are terrestrial, growing in the soil.
Epiphytes are different from other plants because they collect water and nutrients from the air and are commonly found growing in trees or on other plants and are not considered to be parasitic (collecting their water and nutrients from the host plant).
Almost solely native to the tropical and subtropical Americas, bromeliad's native habitats are widely distributed between rainforests, deserts and high-altitude landscapes. The largest known bromeliad, Puya raimondii, is native to Peru and Bolivia and can reach heights of more than 30 feet. A singular genus, Pitcairnia, is native to Western Africa and remains the only genus identified outside of the Americas.
Most bromeliads prefer filtered light, warmth and humidity, which also makes them a popular houseplant. Terrestrial bromeliads prefer a light, well-draining medium and are susceptible to rot if overwatered. Their showy leaves and bright inflorescence also contribute to their popularity as an indoor plant. They vary from genus to genus, but many, such as Neoregelia, have brightly coloured leaves that can add a splash of colour to any dull interior.
Some bromeliads, commonly referred to as tank bromeliads, provide habitats to various animal species like the bromeliad tree frog.
Bromeliads have a different means of propagation than most plants. They can be grown from seed with difficulty, but are more commonly propagated by division. Usually taking place after flowering, clones of the original plant — known as the mother plant — form around the base. Sometimes multiple clones, referred to as pups, will form at the base. These pups can be left on the plant; however, the longer they are left, the longer they are dependent on the mother plant to provide them with nourishment. Removing the pups when they are a fraction of the size of the mother plant will allow the mother a better chance to produce more pups as she ages.
Many bromeliads in the epiphytic genus Tillandsia can be found growing in trees across Cayman, and particularly along the Mastic Trail. The majority of bromeliads in Camana Bay are terrestrial in the genus Aechmea and Vriesea, and can be found near the entrance to the Rise closest to Next Chapter, in the many roundabouts and along the Esterley Tibbetts Highway.
This article originally appeared in the May 2021 print edition of Camana Bay Times.
Shannon Schmidt is a horticulture manager at Dart’s Arboretum Services Ltd. Joining Dart in 2012, Shannon previously worked in parks, public gardens and tourism properties, among others. Originally from the Finger Lakes region of New York State, Shannon loves island life, spending time paddleboarding around the canals and mangroves, in the sea, and spending time outdoors with her two energetic Boston Terriers Nollie and Ebbie and her equally energetic partner Chase! Shannon holds a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management from The Pennsylvania State University and a Diploma in Horticulture from the Longwood Gardens Professional School of Horticulture, and loves spending time swinging in a hammock, with her favourite smoothie from Jessie’s Juice Bar and reading material from Books & Books.