Bromeliads - The Sub Families

 Bromelioideae (bro-meel-ee-oy-dee-ee) This sub-family contains the largest number of genera. All members of the Bromelioideae have two distinguishing characteristics that, together, help distinguish them from other sub-families. They have spines on the margins of the leaves, they vary in size, and all have a fleshy fruit (berry) that remains on the plant for a long time.

 Tillandsioideae (til-land-see-oy-dee-ee) This sub-family contains only seven (7) genera, but it accounts for almost one-half of all known bromeliads. The most common genus, Tillandsia, has over 400 species; Vriesea has more than 250 species. These bromeliads are spineless and have soft leaves (most vrieseas and some tillandsias). Seeds are appendaged with silky feather-like parachutes, enabling them to be disbursed by wind. These seeds are slow to germinate.

 Pitcairnioideae (pit-cairn-ee-oy-dee-ee) This sub-family contains the oldest and most primitive forms of the family. Many are terrestrial or saxicolous (growing on rocks), spiny, rugged plants, sometimes thriving in barren soil or on bleak mountainsides. Flowers are spreading or tubular and seeds are winged. The most popular members of this family are Dyckia, Hechtia, Pitcairnia, and Puya.

Click here for a photo album of bromeliad genera in cultivation at Selby Gardens.

DEVELOPMENT OF PLANT NAMES: Latin being the international language in the early 1700's, it was decided that every plant should have a universal Latin name. A generic name (genus) it put first, and a specific name (species) follows it. The genus name corresponds to a person's family name (Jones) and the species name to his first name (John). Example: Tillandsia utriculata.

POTTING: Epiphytic bromeliads need to be potted in a porous mix, because their roots are used primarily for holding the plant upright. Good aeration and drainage are vital. A sample mix could be one part each of:

  • cypress mulch
  • pine bark mulch
  • peat moss with trace elements added

Terrestrial bromeliads can be potted in almost the same mix, with a small addition of gravel or sand to prevent the roots from becoming too wet. They do well planted in the garden area, too.

PROPAGATION: A pup or offset that is four inches tall or about 1/4 to 1/3 the size of the parent plant is a good size for removal. A plant produced in this manner will be very similar to the mother plant. Crossing two plants of the same species to produce seed is the other method of propagation, and crossing two plants of different species (when possible) will produce hybrids.

WATERING: This is an important part of growing plants and the most difficult one to generalize about. Humidity, potting media, air circulation, and temperature play important parts in the watering cycle. Plants having a cup should not be allowed to become empty. Roots need water, too.

FERTILIZER: Use a mimimum of fertlizer on most genera, very little on neoregelias,and a moderate amount on vrieseas.

LIGHT: Most bromeliads thrive on filtered light. Some will do well in light shade -guzmanias, nidulariums, and vrieseas. A few grow best in direct sunlight.


Anther - the pollen bearing part of the flower
Banded - marked with crossbars or horizontal lines of color
Bigeneric - a cross between species of two different genera
Bract - a modified leaf associated with the flowering part of a plant, often colorful
Clone - plants derived vegetatively from one individual
Dioecious - male and female flowers on separate plants
Discolor - of two colors, or of a different color
Epiphyte - An air plant; a plant that grows on other plants, but is not a parasite
Farinose - covered with a mealy powder
Genus - a group of related species
Glabrous - smooth, glossy; without hairs or scales
Glaucous - covered with a removal waxy or powdery coating that gives the surface a whitish cast
Hybrid - a cross; a plant obtained by putting the pollen of one species on the stigma of another
Inflorescence - the part of the plant that holds or contains the flower or flower cluster
Offset - an offshoot; a plant arising close to the base of the mother plant; also, the plant that develops at the end of a stolon not rooted in the ground
Scales - minute flat absorbing organs through which many bromeliads obtain their water and nutrients; sometimes called "scuff"
Serrated - toothed; with teeth pointing forward
Species - subdivision of a genus; a set of individuals that are closely related by descent from a common ancestor and can reproduce with each other
Stolon - a shoot that bends toward the ground, developing a new plant at its tip; if it touches the ground, it takes root and starts a new plant
Terrestrial - plants growing in the ground
Xerophytic - growing in a dry situation and subsisting with a small amount of moisture