Bravo For Bromeliads

Bromeliads are beautiful, exotic, and not as hard to find as you might think.

Lorraine Carroll has traveled as far as Ecuador in search of rare bromeliad species, but she’s happiest caring for her many plants in her greenhouse.

Bravo For Bromeliads
The most common bromeliad is the ubiquitous fountain-shaped house plant with a central stalk of colored leaves. But don’t let the species fool you – they can be both bizarre and exotic.

Many nurseries will tell you to water bromeliads by spraying the foliage, but Keith Smith of Bromeliad Society International says this is a common misconception. To properly water a potted bromeliad, water in the leaves and keep the soil moist by drenching it. Wait until it has dried out and then repeat the process.

Pop quiz: What do pineapples and Spanish moss have in common? Give up? They’re both bromeliads. This fascinating tidbit, along with scores of others, is what drew Lorraine Carroll to this exotic and diverse family of plants. Her eyes sparkle as she shares her encyclopedic knowledge of her bromeliad collection, which fills her greenhouse shelves, hooks, and floor. Their textures are so varied and attractive, it’s hard to resist touching them. Many look so unusual that they seem mysterious and fragile. But as Carroll moves through the greenhouse, purposely pulling off spent leaves and sprucing up her plants, she insists you can’t hurt them.

Most people recognize the most common bromeliad (even if they don’t know its name) as the fountain-shaped houseplant with a central stalk of pink, red, or yellow leaves that are standard housewarming gifts. But an hour or two with Carroll in the greenhouse behind her historic home in Old East Dallas will leave guests wanting one of each of the bizarre looking bromeliads for their very own.

So great is Carroll’s fascination with bromeliads that she has even traveled to Ecuador to see them in their natural habitat. Her rigorous treks to remote rainforests to collect new, hard-to-spot specimens seems like something out of an Indiana Jones movie.

Bromeliad Facts and Tips

Bromeliads are plants of the Americas. Not only are they native to North, South, and Central America, they are only native to these areas. There is only one very small and remote bromeliad that is not from the Americas.

Bromeliads usually bloom only once and then die. But don’t worry, the mother plant will leave easy-to-plant off-shoots, or pups, in the soil around her. So begins your adventure in propagating bromeliads.

Blooms often last up to six months or more, making bromeliad blossoms one of the longest lasting in the plant kingdom.

Bromeliads come in terrestrial varieties (growing in soil), epiphytic varieties (taking nutrients from the air), and saxicolous varieties (growing on rocks or cliff faces).

Although they often grow on host plants and trees, bromeliads are not parasites. They use the host only for support and do not draw nutrients from it.

The grayish, fuzzy texture on many bromeliads is called scurf. It is through the scurf that epiphytic bromeliads draw needed moisture and nutrition from the air.

In Dallas, keep bromeliads in your house or a greenhouse to over-winter.

Remember, these plants grow naturally in tropical rainforests, so drench the soil and water the leaves to compensate for the dry air that heaters and air conditioners produce.

How to Buy a Greenhouse

Glass or fiberglass? Carroll prefers glass because she likes to be able to see into the greenhouse from her garden, back porch, or kitchen window. Some people prefer fiberglass or polycarbonate, as it is sometimes less expensive and a bit more durable (especially when our annual springtime hail storm comes), but tree branches or even large hail will damage fiberglass, so Carroll lets aesthetic considerations prevail.

Placement of the greenhouse is very important, and, in Texas, access to shade is just as important as sun. Ideal placement offers southern sun in winter and shade in summer. Placing it under a tall deciduous tree is the perfect choice. If you don’t have appropriate coverage, shade cloth covers are available.

Very few have irrigation systems, but many home greenhouses have misting systems to maintain humidity levels, which is especially important if you are growing tropicals.

An appropriate heating system is essential as temperatures drop in winter to prevent damage from temperature fluctuations. Many tropical plants dislike temperatures lower than 50 degrees.

Texas Greenhouses (800-227-5447) reports that its most popular home greenhouse sizes are 8 by 10 feet, 13 by 15 feet, 15 by 20 feet, and 17 by 24 feet.

Conservatory, greenhouse, solarium, sunroom – what’s the difference? All but the greenhouse are living spaces. You can grow plants in the others, but they lack the ventilation and humidity control needed for a true greenhouse.

Greenhouses are available in kits for as little as $1,200, and 8-by-10-feet custom structures start around $3,950.

Bring a bromeliad home:

Calloway’s Nursery
7410 N. Greenville
Ave., multiple locations.
5725 W. Lovers Ln.
North Haven Gardens
7700 Northaven Rd.
Yucca Do
Nursery Inc.