There are so many bromeliad varieties that it’s hard to make sense of them all until collector Bryan Windham breaks it down into two primary types: Terrestrials that require soil to thrive, and epiphytes, which draw nutrients from the air and do not require soil. Also called “air plants,” epiphytes grow attached to other plants, with roots that serve only as anchors.
Here are a few of the better known species of the family Bromeliaceae, of which there are three subfamilies, 57 genera, and nearly 3,200 species (not counting hybrids).
Dyckia: Pointed, strap-like leaves lined with spines. Foliage varies from dark brown to maroon. Sends up a flower spike and blooms in shades of yellow and orange. Mother plant does not die after blooming, but heads divide to create colonies. Flowers have both male and female parts. Comparatively cold tolerant. Large root system.
Hechtia: Foliage very similar to Dyckia. Flowers usually white. Mother plant dies after flowering but makes new plants by sending out offsets. Plants are either male or female, so two are needed to reproduce. One of the least cold tolerant of terrestrial bromeliads. Large root system.
Cryptanthus: Name means “hidden flower” but commonly known as “Earth Star.” Plants are low, hug the ground. Pointy leaves spread out from center and resemble a starfish. Flowers in center of flat plant. Large root system. Foliage mottled or striped, colors can be green to red. Flowers once then pups form.
Tillandsia: Fine spiky leaves that are often pale gray. Trichomes are tiny scales on leaves that absorb moisture. Blooms vary in size and visual appeal, though some have striking colors ranging from bright pink to blue to orange to purple. Flowers once before putting out offsets and dying.
Aechmea: Wide, strappy leaves that come in shades of green with a gray cast, many with horizontal bands. Likes water in the center of the leaf rosette or cup. Dies after flowering, put out new plants or pups. Blooms can last for months. Known for showy pink flowers.
Neoregelia: Prized for its stunning foliage, which can be deep red to maroon and intensified by full sun. Broad flat leaves color in center when bloom imminent. Pin cushion like flower structures in cup in center of leaves.