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Tropic Thunder

What do we love even more than brightly colored, showy, exotic plants? Brightly colored, showy, exotic plants that are easy to grow indoors. Once fall is in full swing and our gardens have shriveled to a dull brown, we turn to bromeliads to give us a much-needed color infusion and a healthy dose of international flair.

Bromeliads originated in the tropical Americas, and include 2,000 plants—most famously the pineapple and the Spanish moss tree. Many are aloe or yucca look-alikes, while some could pass for lush grasses. Bromeliads can grow in the ground, on rocks, or even on other plants or on telephone poles. This ability to absorb nutrition and moisture from the atmosphere, rather than just from soil, is why they’re sometimes called air plants. Most have eye-catching ornamental foliage and long-lasting, brilliantly hued blooms that reproduce consistently and rapidly.

Bromeliads are pretty no-fuss, as long as some basic needs are met:

  • A “people temperature” range of 45 to 85 degrees F; avoid extremes.
  • Moderate moisture to keep the roots moist but not wet, and about 50 percent humidity (misting the plants will help during drier periods).
  • Good air circulation and drainage.
  • Firm support for both potted and mounted varieties (clay pots are better for this than plastic).
  • Indirect sunlight, or 14 to 16 hours a day of bright fluorescent light.
  • Infrequent fertilizing; bromeliads respond better to feeding with fertilizers in the summer, and require only about a quarter of the amount recommended on most chemical fertilizer containers. Spray the leaves or pour the water over them while fertilizing, as the leaves will absorb the nutrients.

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