Putting on Airs


The native range of the West Indian tufted air plant, Guzmania monostachia, extends into southern Florida, and it can be grown in our area, which falls in USDA hardiness zone 10a, under the right conditions. It is also common as a houseplant.

What do pineapples and Spanish moss have in common? As hard to believe as it may seem, the two are members of the same family. The family Bromeliaceae, that is. Perhaps not the most convenient for monogramming purposes, but the family name dates back to the 17th century and Swedish botanist Olaf Bromelius.

There are more than 3,500 known species of bromeliads in 75 genera, and “new” species are still being discovered in remote jungles. The enormous variety of bromeliads is one of the characteristics that makes them so popular that they have garnered a passionate following. That, and their reputation for being remarkably low-maintenance plants. Some bromeliads don’t even require any growing medium whatsoever!rain and loose plant material that crosses their paths.

Broadly speaking, in terms of how they grow, there are three categories of bromeliads. The epiphytes, as mentioned, have no need of soil. Terrestrial varieties do put down roots and draw water from the soil, but most, like their epiphytic cousins, retain the ability to absorb at least some of their water through their leaves. Pineapples fall into the terrestrial department. The third group is fascinating: Lithophytes — “upon a rock” — are true minimalists, able to eke out a living on the barest of surfaces. Among these three categories, there is quite a bit of overlap, as species adapt to microhabitats over time.

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