Category Archives: Houseplants

Clivia: Perhaps a Houseplant for your Collection?

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

I recently acquired a Clivia miniata.    This plant was new to me which, of course, was part of it’s appeal.  It also has dramatic long strappy green leaves and flowers during our cold, gray Ontario winter. 

When you bring a new plant home, be sure to carefully inspect it for hitchhikers; you do not want to bring in disease or insects which could be problematic for your current houseplants .   For example, Clivia may occasionally suffer from scale or mealy bug.  Thankfully, my new plant is lovely and healthy!

Clivia are part of the Liliaceae family.  Amaryllis is in the same family.  Clivia flowers are similar in shape to Amaryllis but smaller.  Clivia form a large ball of flowers so have lots of impact… colours range from yellow to red.  My plant has orange flowers.  Clivia may grow to be 2 to 3 feet (60-90 centimetres) tall and almost as wide.  This means that it requires a heavy pot to balance the top growth or it may tip over.  They like to be root-bound so may stay in the same pot for up to 5 years.

Clivia is native to South Africa.  The common name is flame lily, Natal lily or bush lily.  The plant was named after Lady Charlotte Florentine Clive, Duchess of Northumberland in England.  Clivia was very popular during the Victorian era.  If you would like to know more about the history of this plant, check here.

This plant is the ideal house plant.  It could be placed in a North window or in indirect light from an East or West window.  High humidity is not required so no misting is needed.  Clivia prefers rich, well drained organic soil.  A half strength dilution of 20-20-20 fertilizer may be applied monthly in the summer. This plant’s  large fleshy roots will rot if watered too much so allow the soil to become dry to the touch between waterings. 

Clivia may be placed in bright shade outdoors in the summer but does not like cool temperatures so must be wintered indoors.  In fall, when you bring your plant indoors, it needs a rest period to encourage that wonderful winter bloom.   Reduce watering but give it just enough water to keep the leaves hydrated and place the plant in a cool area for 6-8 weeks.  Then, place your plant back in its usual spot and water as described above.  Your plant should flower but this may take up to 8 weeks.  Clivia may flower 2-3 times per year but note that the plant is slow growing and needs to mature before it blooms.  This may take 3 to 5 years if you have purchased a young plant.  For more Clivia information, please see here.

I encourage you to welcome the easy to grow Clivia into your home!  Their beautiful leaves, and eye-catching blooms make them a striking plant to add to your houseplant collection.

Your Amaryllis is NOT Just for Christmas!!!

by Carol Anderson, Master Gardener in Training

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp) is a beautiful flowering bulb that is native to South America. In Canada, we have traditionally considered it as “The flower of Christmas/Winter Bloom” and as such it is often given as a gift and sold during and for the holiday season.

Due to our harsh climate, the Amaryllis has been considered largely as an indoor plant that brings beautiful blooms (and great joy) into our homes during the cold and often grey days of winter. However, with some care, patience, and appreciation for the process, you can enjoy your prized Amaryllis for perhaps as long as 25 years (if you are lucky!!).

How to Enjoy Your Amaryllis Year Round

The trick to year-round enjoyment is ensuring that the Amaryllis bulb experiences a “cool period” (~50-55 degrees F) for 8 to10 weeks before attempting to bloom/rebloom. This “rest period” (not a true dormancy) is critical but can be accomplished through careful planning – enabling both a winter and summer blooming period to occur year after year. The Amaryllis can be enjoyed indoors during the winter months or in a spectacular garden display during the summer.

When to Grow Your Amaryllis

You can determine the best timing to plant, depending upon when you would like to enjoy the peak blooming period. The following timeline demonstrates the 3 critical periods and growth patterns for the Amaryllis. Understanding this timeline enables you to plan around when you would like to enjoy the spectacular blooms.

For example, a cool period from September through November, followed by a planting and a growth period from December through January will ensure winter blooms in January – March to bring life and enjoyment in the winter months inside your home.

Following the minimum “cool period”, you can consider when you would like to enjoy the blooms again, remembering that the bulbs require a warm moist growing period of ~ 8 weeks with bright indirect light before they will bloom again. Therefore, if planting outdoors to enjoy summer blooms, the bulbs may need to be started indoors where the temperature is warmer (70-75 degrees F) to stimulate the necessary growth of roots and shoots.

How to Grow Your Amaryllis

Here are some growing tips to ensure success:

  1. Upon purchase or when coming out of the “cool period”, soak the bulb roots for 1-2 hrs in room temperature water to rehydrate the roots before planting.
  2. Depth: Plant the bulb 2/3 under the soil with 1/3 above the soil line ensuring that the bulb is above the pot edge.
  3. Soil: use a good nutritious potting compost that has good drainage (avoid peat to prevent moisture retention that could cause rotting).
  4. Water sparingly until the stems appear, and then regularly
  5. Light: bright indirect light; keep warm with a temperature 70-75 degrees during the growing period (Note: a lower temperature ~ 65 degrees once blooming will prolong the blooming period)
  6. Staking: stems can grow >24 inches and blooms are “top-heavy”. Staking is recommended. Consider using a natural twig/dogwood staking mesh (see below) which can later be covered with evergreen/holy sprigs pinecones and cranberries for a beautiful table display.
  7. Enjoy!!!!

Replanting

The leaves of the Amaryllis are needed to continue photosynthesis and replenish and store the necessary food/sugars in the bulb for future blooming…so remember to keep them intact until they die back. Some tips for replanting…

  • Remove old flowers right away (so that plant energy is redirected)
  • Trim stem to the top of the bulb when it begins to sag
  • Cut back leaves (only when they turn brown) to 1-2” above the bulb tip
  • Remove the bulb from the soil (new nutritious soil will be needed for regrowth)
  • Clean bulb of excess soil and store in a 45-55 degree cool, dark area until ready to plant. (Note: a fridge crisper can be used…but not if apples are present due to ethylene gas that could affect blooming).

Summary

Enjoying your Amaryllis blooms both summer and winter is possible for any enthusiast. Although it requires some planning and work, the pay-off can be extraordinary.

A mass planting with 10-12 bulbs (or more) outdoors in summer can be easily converted to beautiful indoor displays throughout your home during the holiday season – bringing joy and the anticipation for spring gardening into our hearts and minds during the deep winter months…

Philodendron — An Easy Care Houseplant

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

The Philodendron is a tropical plant found in South and Central America and the Carribean. It is the second largest group in the Araceae family. This family of plants includes Pothos (which are often confused with Philodendron), Alocasias (Elephant Ears), Monstera (this plant is its own genus), Aglaonema (Chinese Evergreen), and ZZ plants. There are many different varieties of Philodendron from vine types to large tropicals which grow at different height levels in the jungles of their tropical homes. Many vine type species live as epiphytes in their native environment, growing like air plants and climbing up their host plant to reach more sunlight. Most have large heart shaped leaves that grow alternately on stems.

Philodendron and Pothos are often difficult to distinguish. When you look closely at the base of the leaves, philodendrons will have a covering or sheath, called a calaphylls, over the leaf which form where the stem and petiole (leaf stem) attach.

(Philodendron showing cataphylls, and pothos showing no cataphylls)

P. Hederadeum is the most common species available as a houseplant. Heartleaf will trail or can be trained to grow up a trellis.

Upright or bush philodendrons also can have aerial roots similar to orchid roots which grow above the soil. These roots form because the plants originally grew in tropical jungles where philodendrons grow into the trees.

 If you are looking for an easy to grow houseplant, try the philodendron. Or if you want to increase your houseplant varieties, there are many different varieties to choose from.There are upright types like ‘Birkin’ which has dark glossy leaves with white streaks in the veins. Many varieties have dark green leaves while others have chartreuse leaves like ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Mekloni Gold’. Growers have introduced cultivars named ‘Prince of Orange’, ‘Ceylon Beauty’, Black Cardinal’, Narrow Escape’ and ‘Brazil’.

(“Imperial Red”, and “Birkin”)

In our homes, philodendron are one of the easier houseplants to grow. They prefer bright indirect light, but will tolerate lower light. Do not over water. Let the soil dry out between watering.

Fertilizing with a 20-20-20 solution in spring and summer is okay, but let your plant rest in the fall and winter, watering less as well. Philodendrons rarely have pest or disease problems. They contain calcium oxalate which is poisonous to humans and pets if ingested.

Philodendrons that vine tend to be slower growers but shouldn’t get pot bound. Repotting your houseplant when roots fill the pot with fresh potting soil will make your plant happier. You may also need to wipe dust from the shiny leaves by using a soft damp cloth.

I saw an article on a website recently where people were talking about the beauty of tropicals in their native environment. They wondered about bringing them home to Canada. Please remember that transporting living plants into other countries is not legal. Also, that gorgeous gigantic tropical would not be happy in your home. The plants that are for sale in Canada have been bred to be in your home, but will never get as lush as those that grow in hot humid countries. Enjoy them while visiting in their environment and love their hybridized cousins in your home.

Google Lens (free!) for all of your identification needs

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

If you’re outside enjoying the fresh air, and happen across a flower or bird or insect and you’re not sure what you’re looking at, a new feature from Google can help you out.

Google Lens lets you search what you see. Using a photo, your camera or almost any image, Lens helps you discover visually similar images and related content, gathering results from all over the internet.

All you need to do is: On your phone, open the Google app and in the search bar, tap Google Lens. Point your camera at the flower to identify the plant. Swipe up to learn about the discovery.

On Android, Google Lens is likely already built right in — open the Google App or Google Photos app. Tap Discover or tap the Google Lens icon.

On Apple, Google Lens is part of the Google app — a separate app from using Google on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Go to the App Store and download/install Google as a unique app if you haven’t already done so.

When you open the Google App, you’ll see a screen like this with the Lens icon. It’s your window to discovery!

Last week, I went for a long walk and checked out a lot of the volunteer trees and plants along the rural roadway. Sometimes I wanted to verify an item I thought I already knew, but more often I wanted to determine the name of a common but name-unknown item. Google Lens scored on both fronts. Now if only I could remember all of those names!

If you have a bug infestation, use Google Lens to identify the bug if you can get it to sit still long enough!

There’s plenty more you can do with Google Lens, too, including pulling the contact information from business cards, identifying unusual foods and almost anything else. It can also translate words on the screen into other languages, and read them back to you.

The ability of the app to actually CORRECTLY identify plants and bugs is pretty decent, and will get better over time. It helps to allow Google to use location services, so that it’s not searching through the entire rain forest to determine the name of the plant in your neighbourhood. You can also allow Lens access to your photos, so that you can identify items you’ve already taken pictures of.

Best of all, it’s free and will always be free. Try it!

Why is my Thanksgiving Cactus Blooming in March?

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Sometimes we get questions that sound more complicated than they really are. After observing an odd occurence in my own home, I’ve been contemplating this one: “Why is my Thanksgiving Cactus blooming in March?”  Sometimes, it’s a very simple answer:  Because it’s not a Thanksgiving Cactus – it’s an Easter Cactus.

However, that’s not the case for MY cactus. Using the image below, I’ve correctly identified my plant as a Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) based on its leaf structure. It also bloomed profusely last fall. So what gives?

A couple of weeks ago, while watering, I noticed that some buds were forming on the window side of the plant, but not on the other side facing me. I turned the plant around. A few weeks later, it’s “bloom city” on that side, but the other side has exactly zero blooms.

I did some investigation, and it turns out that blooms require two things: cooler temperatures and long nights. These cacti are short-day plants, which means that blooms are triggered by long dark cool nights. They need for between 14-16 hours of uninterrupted darkness and 8 hours of daylight for between 3 – 6 weeks to set flower buds. Our winter seems to fit that bill — flowering that shows at Thanksgiving will often be followed by a second rush just before, at, or maybe after Easter because of the light and temperature.

Once you notice that your cactus is budding or re-budding, it’s a really good idea to leave it in exactly the same place, and to not move it. Moving the plant may result in bud drop. Also, while in flower, allow the soil to dry down somewhat between waterings.

Resources

Do Christmas Cactus (Thanksgiving, Holiday) Flower More Than Once A Year? Oh Yes!

How to Make Christmas Cactus Bloom Several Times Per Year

Multiplying Streptocarpus

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

Don’t worry if math isn’t your thing.  Multiplying, or more correctly, propagating Streptocarpus (Cape Primrose), a beautiful flowering house plant, is not complicated at all. 

If you have a streptocarpus, an efficient way to propagate to get more plants is to take a leaf cutting.  The way you prepare a leaf cutting varies somewhat depending on the plant. Check this link for different propagation methods for other plants.     

Many plants will root well in water but some, like Streptocarpus, will form stringy, fibrous roots that may have difficulty becoming established when planted in soil.  That is why a leaf cutting is advised.  It is quite an amazing process as both leaves and roots are formed and the leaf cutting does not become part of the new plant.

You should have all your equipment clean and ready. Take a healthy leaf from a well hydrated plant and either cut out the midrib of the leaf, creating two leaf pieces or cut the leaf into 5cm sections from top to bottom.  Have a clean pot already prepared with moistened soilless potting mix or half and half potting mix and perlite (medium).  Your moistened medium should still be crumbly, not forming clumps, as that may mean it is too wet and may cause your leaf cutting to rot.  Take your leaf cuttings and place them in the soil.  Placing them about 2.5cm deep is advised but my leaf cutting wasn’t that big.  As you can see parts of the leaf curled up but I still managed to get results.  Five plantlets so far!

After your cuttings are in the soil, place your pot in a plastic bag to keep the humidity high.  Leaf cuttings have no roots to support them so they need the high humidity.  Place your bagged pot in a warm, bright spot but not in direct sun.  It is advised to open the bag every week to release excess humidity and to water as needed.  You may find you never need to water while the pot is bagged. 

In about 6-12 weeks you will hopefully have little plantlets forming.  Wait until they have developed enough leaf and root tissue and then pot on to 3-4” pots and enjoy your new plants.

See also this link: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/streptocarpus/growing-guide

Quarantines are Not Just for Humans

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Seeing bugs outside is generally pretty tolerable as we know that many of them are pollinators, but seeing them inside our houses is a completely different story, right? Fortunately, it’s usually easy to manage most indoor pests with little more than some water, a cotton swab, and a soap solution. It all starts with a few preventative actions:

Aphids
  1. Whenever you happily bring home a new treasure (or sometimes, victim!), make sure that you carefully inspect them. Many types of houseplant bugs piggyback their way into your house from friend’s homes or stores. Look on leaf undersides, along the stems, and even in the soil for signs of common pests (sticky substances, flying cloud when disturbed, little bumps, fine silky webbing).
  2. Put your new treasure in solitary confinement for a few weeks, like in a spare room. Even if you think a new plant is pest-free, it may have pest eggs or larvae that you can’t yet see. Watch it carefully and only put it in close contact with other plants after it’s been confirmed to be pest-free. If the pandemic has taught us anything, quarantining is right at the top of the list and it applies to plants as well as humans.
  3. Place a few yellow sticky cards in among your plants. Many pest insects are attracted to the color yellow, and they’ll quickly get trapped on the card. Check the card every few days for any insects. If you have some on the card, you probably have many more on the plant itself.

What if You Detect an Infestation?

The most common pests are aphids, fungus gnats, mealybugs, scale, spider mites and white flies. See this resource for bug-specific instructions.

For all infestations, the first thing to do is to move the affected plant away from all other plants. Quarantine!

Then, take the plant to the bathtub/shower and spray it with water. Many bugs are tiny and are easily washed off the plant. Be sure to rinse both upper and lower leaf surfaces. After the plant has fully dried, use a light-weight horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to smother the pests. Reapply the oil/soap every 10-14 days for two more applications for the best control.

If you detect small bumps, wipe the plants with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and remove the bumps if possible.

If you detect pests in the soil, it’s often caused by overwatering. Reducing the amount of water, or watering your plants from the bottom instead of the top should take care of the problem. Spraying the soil lightly with insecticidal soap occasionally often helps as well.

Resources

How to Get Rid of Bugs on Houseplants
Common Houseplant Insects & Related Pests
How to Get Rid of Common Houseplant Pests

Spider mites


Houseplant Facts and Fictions

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

We turn to searching for information online or in books on how to care for our plants. Unfortunately there are a lot of inaccuracies surrounding certain beliefs and practices concerning them. Since most of our attention is now focused on indoor gardening, let’s look at five questions concerning houseplants.

1. Are Poinsettias Poisonous?

You may have been gifted with a Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and you may be concerned because you have heard that they are poisonous. The plant, while not edible, would need to be consumed in large quantities to be harmful. That being said, it still is wise to keep the plants out of reach of pets and children as some consumption may lead to digestive distress. Like other members of the Euphorbiaceae family, Poinsettias produce a milky sap and so handling the plant without gloves may affect those with a latex allergy.1

2. Can Houseplants Filter or Absorb Pollutants?

Recently I read in a book on houseplant care that plants draw in harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde and benzene and clean the air for us. Two examples mentioned included the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) and the Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum). It stated that the former can filter out formaldehyde and the latter both formaldehyde and benzene. While it is true that plants have the ability to absorb pollutants, large numbers are required to have a significant impact. The belief that plants clean the air may be associated with a single NASA study2 from the 1980s that was conducted in an air-controlled laboratory setting and not in an open home or office setting. More recent research has determined that a building’s air handling system or open windows is more effective at reducing pollutants than plants. One would require 10-1000 plants per square meter in order to be comparable.3

3. Will Misting and Pebble Trays Increase Humidity?

We may struggle with maintaining optimum humidity levels in the winter for our tropical houseplants. Many books and online sources recommend increasing relative humidity around plants through misting and placing the plant pots on trays filled with pebbles and water. Misting is generally ineffective because the water evaporates so quickly. It would have to be done constantly to have an impact. Concerning pebble trays, an experiment published in the American Orchid Society Bulletin found that in the winter (set in a home in Minnesota), relative humidity levels were raised only slightly. The RH at 40 mm above the tray was measured at 3%; at 110 mm 2%; and at 300 mm it measured 0%.4 Using a humidifier is really the only method that has the ability to increase humidity levels significantly.

4. Should you Use Ice Cubes for Watering Orchids?

Recently I read a comment on the Master Gardeners of Ontario Facebook site that someone said that their Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) came with a tag advising them to use ice cubes as a method of watering it. It seems that this advice is really intended to help prevent new Orchid owners from overwatering their plants. While there is a study that found that using ice cubes did not negatively affect the health of the orchids, it was only conducted for a period of 4-6 months. A problem with using ice cubes is that it has the potential to accumulate salt build-up (from water and fertilizer) that can affect the plant’s longevity in the long term.5

5. Should you use Leaf Shining Products or Oils?

Some sources advise using commercial shine products or oils to help make a plant’s leaves shiny and reduce build-up of dust. However, there is research indicating that the use of leaf shine on Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina) caused the plants to have a reduced tolerance to low light stress, resulting in three times as much leaf loss as untreated plants.Treated plants required higher light levels.6 Another problem is that they can block the pores or stomata in the leaves of some plants, resulting in reducing the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and respire.

Here are three easy to care for houseplants:
Schefflera, Aloe Vera, and Epipremnum aureum (Pothos)

References

  1. Newman, S.E. and B.E. Edmunds. Poinsettias. Colorado State University Extension. Online: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/poinsettias-7-412
  2. Wolverton, B.C. et al. Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. Online: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19930073077
  3. Cummings, Bryan E. and Michael S. Waring. Potted plants do not improve indoor air quality: a review and analysis of reported VOC removal efficiencies. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. Volume 30, pp. 253–261 (2020). Online: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41370-019-0175-9
  4. Kohl, Douglas. A Study in Humidity: Douglas Kohl Evaluates the Effectiveness of a Common Method to Raise Humidity around Orchids Growing in the Home. American Orchid Society Bulletin, 63(8). 1994. pp. 916-917.
  5. American Orchid Society. Greenhouse Chat Webinar. June 2021. Online: https://www.aos.org/All-About-Orchids/Webinars/chat/Greenhouse-Chat-June-2021.aspx
  6. Steinkamp, K. et al. Acclimatization of Ficus benjamina: A Review. Online: https://mrec.ifas.ufl.edu/foliage/resrpts/rh_91_5.htm

Bringing in Your Tropicals for Their Annual Winter Spa Treatment

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Note: The article was also published recently in the Peterborough Horticultural Society September 2021 newsletter. Apologies to PHS members who have already enjoyed it!

If your houseplants are on “vacation” on the back deck this summer, then at around this time you should think about getting them ready to move back inside for the winter.

Bring your houseplants indoors before night time temperatures dip below 7 or 8 degrees (C).  Most tropicals will suffer damage at temperatures below 5 degrees, a few even below 10 degrees.

Sudden changes in temperature, light, and humidity can be traumatic to plants, resulting in yellowed leaves, dieback, wilting, and even death. To prevent shock when you bring houseplants back indoors, expose plants gradually to reduced lighting.

Before moving day, inspect plants for insects and diseases, and treat as appropriate before bringing plants back inside.  Spray them a couple of times over a 2 week period with a mild soap and water mix so that you don’t bring bugs from outdoors in with your plants.  Alternatively, soaking the pot in a tub of lukewarm soapy water for about 15 minutes will force insects out of the soil. Allow the plant and pot to dry completely afterwards.  If snails, earthworms, or other insects burrowed in the soil, you might want to repot the plants, placing a piece of wire screening over the drainage hole to keep them out next year.

Personal anecdote:  A couple of years ago, I brought a large cactus planter inside without inspections or the soaking method. The next day, we found a curious “deposit” left behind by some unknown critter on our kitchen floor and we kinda freaked out.  We set live traps in the house and were on high alert for a chipmunk or squirrel or even something huge with big teeth that could drag us out of bed by the big toe.  It was a little bit traumatic.  A day or so later, my son found a large toad in the living room and we connected the dots.  Turns out that toads leave very large deposits for their body size (Google it!) and closer inspection of the cactus planter showed an open hibernation hole. Whew!

Moral of the story? Check your plant pots for toads too!

Toad ‘deposit’

Toad — they’re looking for prime hibernation locations at this time of year.

Bromeliads

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Continuing on a similar theme to last week’s blog on Orchids by Master Gardener Cheryl Harrison, I thought I would touch on another family of plants that are tropical and exotic; the Bromeliaceae family.  Known as Bromeliads, it is a large family which includes more than 50 genera and at least 2,500 known species which are native mainly from an area stretching from the southern U.S. to Central and South America.

Before COVID, we would do an annual visit to the Sarasota area in Florida.  One of my favourite places to visit is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.  Selby Garden botanists have made hundreds of expeditions into the tropics and subtropics and have contributed to the most diverse living and preserved collection of epiphytes in the world.  They have a greenhouse that is beautiful to walk through with very knowledgeable volunteers to answer questions.

Many bromeliads are stiff-leaved, rosette-forming plants with brightly coloured leaves, bracts and flowers.  The majority of them are epiphytic, meaning that they grow on the branches of trees without taking nutrients from the tree.  They can also be lithophytic which means they reside on rocks, and the remaining are generally terrestrial, meaning that they grow in soil.  Bromeliad flowers can last several months, but they generally only bloom once.  The mother plant will produce new plantlets, also called ‘pups’.  They are incredibly resilient but do not like to be overwatered.  Their roots are usually used for balance and not for transferring nutrients.  Instead, the leaves take in all of the water and nutrients the plant needs.  They never breath out carbon dioxide almost as if they hold their breath in order not to lose moisture.  It is a very special photosynthesis.

A picture of a Bromeliad Tree taken at the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers

Many bromeliads have leaves that form a reservoir to hold water at their bases (known as tank bromeliads), with the largest holding up to two gallons of water.  Types that don’t hold water are called xerophytic or atmospheric bromeliads.

One of the most well-known Bromeliads is in the Ananas genera.  This is the pineapple, Ananas comosus.  Europeans first found out about bromeliads when Columbus went on his second trip to the New World in 1493.  The pineapple was being cultivated by the Carib tribe in the West Indies.  After colonization, it was rapidly transported to all areas of the tropics and became a very important fruit.

Another genus is Tillandsia.  It is the largest group in the family and this genus is also known as “air plants”.  Most do not form tanks and have grey-green leaves and are densely covered with fuzzy scales that give the plants their characteristic colour.  Tillandsia require more humidity than other bromeliads and tend to dehydrate in the dry air of most homes, but can still be grown successfully with more frequent watering.

Spanish Moss falls under this genus, Tillandsia usneoides.  It is very prevalent in Florida and is neither Spanish nor a moss.  Unlike other epiphytes that have roots to anchor themselves to their host tree, Spanish moss has tiny scales on its leaves and its curved structure to cling to its host tree.  It is important for diversity as its large mats that drip from trees harbor a great variety of insects, birds and bats.  In Florida, you usually see Spanish Moss clinging to Live Oaks.

Author standing under a Live Oak tree covered in Spanish Moss


Bromeliads will survive for months or even years under less than ideal conditions.  They need satisfactory light, temperature and humidity.  It is best to use water that is not softened.  You should use a potting mix that holds moisture yet drains quickly.  Orchid bark mixed with course perlite and humus is good for most bromeliads.  The small air plants only need to be misted with a spray bottle or put in a bowl of water for an hour.  If you would like to learn more about these amazing plants, visit University of Wisconsin-Madison.