Bromeliads Make Great Orchid Companion Plants

Bromeliad plant with green and white variegated leaves and flower spike in center, Pacific Orchid Expo 2015, San Francisco, CaliforniaGuzmania and Vriesea bromeliads, bromeliads in bloom with colorful flowers, glasshouse at University of Oxford Botanic Garden, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, UKAechmea bromeliad flower spike, large bright blue purple and red flower spike, Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

Neoregelia carolinae 'Tricolor', bromeliad species plant with variegated leaves, red white and green leaves with water in center cup of plant, Orchids in the Park 2011, San Francisco, CaliforniaBromeliad flower, Glasshouse, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, UKGuzmania bromeliad flower, red and yellow flower spike, Vallarta Botanical Gardens, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo Corrientes, Jalisco, Mexico

Bromeliads don’t have the fame and glamour of orchids, but they’re fascinating, beautiful, and easy to grow. Some have otherworldly flower spikes, with remarkable shapes reminiscent of exploding fireworks or fantastic creatures. Others have foliage with spectacular variegation that provides year-round color. Bromeliad flowers are often tiny and fleeting, but their stunningly colorful bracts can be large and durable. Most are denizens of tropical rainforests in Central and South America, living alongside orchids in the wild. Famous bromeliads include pineapples and Spanish Moss.

Bromelia genus bromeliad, red and green leaves with blue bracts around small white flowers, grown outdoors close to the ocean in Pacifica, CaliforniaPuya bromeliad species from Talca, Chile, blue tubular flowers with yellow pollen, grown outdoors at Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyNeoregelia bromeliad, small flowers in center cup of leaves, spiny leaves, Shelldance Orchid Gardens, Pacifica, California

Some types called tank bromeliads have rosettes of overlapping leaves which hold water. There are varieties with spines along their leaf edges, and others which are succulent desert plants. Among the most popular bromeliads, Tillandsias are shown in the next three photos below. They’ve become popular houseplants, often simply called “air plants.” As epiphytes, they live up in the trees with orchids. They can be grown in pots or on mounts, or as bare plants living in a bowl or on a table.

Tillandsia bromeliad in bloom, air plant, bromeliad growing on tree trunk, Carlos Thays Botanical Garden, Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, ArgentinaTillandsia bromeliads, Glasshouse, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, UKTillandsia bromeliad seedlings growing attached to side of wooden bench in a greenhouse, Kawamoto Orchid Nursery, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii

Hechtia marnier-lapostollei, bromeliad species with spiny white leaves, grown outdoors at Univ. of California Botanical Garden at BerkeleyCryptanthus bromeliad, reddish-pink variegated leaves, grown indoors in Pacifica, CaliforniaBromeliad flower and leaves, Glasshouse, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey, UK

I’ve tried to illustrate the wondrous diversity of the bromeliad family, but there really is so much more. About 3600 bromeliad species range throughout Central America, South America, and the southern USA, with one species native to West Africa. There are also many hybrids. The most commonly sold types need care similar to tropical orchids: mild temps, regular water, bright light, good humidity, and air movement. There are also cool growers, like this Billbergia tank bromeliad which lives outdoors all year in our Northern California garden. Its brilliant flowers stand out, even among the orchids.

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