For many houseplant owners, the biggest selling point of Bromeliads is the glorious displays they produce while flowering. Their inflorescences can last for months, filling your home with a riot of tropical color the whole time. But how much do you know about the variety, structure, and life cycle of Bromeliad blooms? Our introductory guide will explain how these plants flower and what you can expect when yours is in bloom.
Those showy Bromeliad blooms are complex structures made of modified leaves surrounding many small flowers. The leaves often have much richer colors than the individual blossoms, and they also last longer. Bromeliads typically flower at one to three years of age, then slowly decline and die.
Bromeliad inflorescences can come in a striking variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Many of the most popular types of Bromeliads are identifiable by the distinctive forms of their blooms. We’ll include some tips to help you identify your plant based on how it looks when flowering.
Understanding the Structure of Bromeliad Blooms
What would you say if someone asked you where the flowers were in this picture?
Most people would probably point to the big bubblegum-colored starbursts rising out of the foliage. But gardeners familiar with Bromeliads would say it’s a trick question — you can’t see any flowers in that photo.
They’d be right, too. The hot pink blades are a specialized type of leaves called bracts, and the lotus-like arrangement they’re forming is known as an inflorescence. Bromeliads like the one pictured (most likely a cultivar of Aechmea Fasciata, the Silver Vase Plant) grow these eye-catching structures to shelter their flowers and display them for pollinators.
The inflorescences in the picture above haven’t yet bloomed. When they do, they’ll sprout small purple flowers like these:
This is just one example of the countless shapes and colors that you can observe in Bromeliad blooms. They can vary from branching structures that look like Dr. Seuss trees to curving, slender wands reminiscent of Fuschia or Bleeding Heart flowers. Some may be harder to see because they remain nestled inside the foliage crown instead of stretching upward. However, they all follow the same basic pattern: complex inflorescences that sprout multiple smaller flowers.
The Stages of the Bromeliad Bloom Cycle
When will your Bromeliad bloom? And how long will the process take? There’s no universal answer, because it depends on the species of plant as well as its care conditions. However, the majority of these plants will undergo the following stages:
Stage 1: Maturation
Bromeliads have to grow up a little before they’re ready to produce flowers. This typically takes between one and three years. There are some major exceptions, including the slowest-flowering plant known to science: the giant Puya Raimondii, a Bromeliad that can reach over 20 feet in height and takes 80-150 years to bloom. However, most of the varieties commonly sold as houseplants will flower after a couple of years.
Most Bromeliads grown indoors are created through vegetative propagation. Small clones, called “pups”, are split off from the main plant and transplanted. If you go the less-common route and raise your Bromeliad from a seed, it may take an extra year or so before it’s ready to blossom.
During the maturation phase, your Bromeliad will expand from the center outward. New leaves form inside the center of the rosette and take their places within the plant’s spiraling form. This growth pattern may be less obvious in Bromeliads with a more bushy form, such as Air Plants, but it’s there if you look closely.
Smaller Bromeliads may be only a few inches tall by the time they’re able to bloom, while others may get above a foot and a half. They’ll generally be larger if you grow them outdoors, though this may not be possible year-round unless your local climate is very warm.
Stage 2: Inflorescence Formation
The emergence of Bromeliad blooms is often heralded by a bold splash of color. Most Bromeliads you find in grocery stores or garden centers will be in this stage since their extravagant coloring makes them an easy sell.
In many varieties, a vibrant inflorescence begins to rise from the center of the spiral of foliage.
Others, like Neoregelias, keep their blooms close to the chest while some of the existing leaves flush with dramatic tones of pink, purple, orange, or red. This color change often surrounds the center of the plant’s foliage rosette with a bright halo of color. Some Bromeliads even combine these approaches, extending a brilliant inflorescence from a patch of sunrise-colored leaves.
It will often take a week or two for the flower spike to stretch to its full height and spread open. This isn’t universal, though. Some varieties are noticeably faster, and some are a lot slower. The timing will also likely depend on the amount of light and water your Bromeliad receives. If it’s short on energy or moisture, it will be slower than normal.
Stage 3: Flowering
After your Bromeliad’s inflorescence is fully formed, you may have to wait another 7-10 days before the true flowers bloom. Again, this depends a lot on the variety you’re cultivating. Some Bromeliad blossoms start to open while the flower spike is still growing.
The flowers can be just as variable in appearance as the bracts. Some are quite colorful and attractive in their own right, while others are inconspicuous. You’ll typically see them unfurling from the junctions between the colorful leaves of the inflorescence.
Bromeliad flowers all have three petals and six pollen-bearing stamens, arranged around a central stigma that holds the ovaries. These structures are tiny and can be hard to make out without getting quite close.
Bromeliads can often remain in bloom for three to six months. During this time, individual flowers will pop out from the inflorescence one or two at a time and spread their petals. After a week or so, they’ll wither and die.
During this time, your Bromeliad will often start to form pups. These small copies of the original plant usually appear at the outside edge of the foliage rosette. In other cases, they may spring out of the soil a few inches away. You can propagate them to keep your plant going after its life cycle ends, though you’ll need to wait until they get quite a bit bigger.
Stage 4: Senescence
A few months after emerging, your Bromeliad blooms will start to age and die. The stunning colors will fade to a dreary gray-brown. The inflorescence will dry out and eventually drop off after a few weeks.
If they’ve been fertilized, they’ll stick around longer. The inflorescences will swell up into clusters of green or brown seed pods over the course of several months. Once those fruits come off, the dried remnants of the flower stalk will soon follow.
In either case, this process indicates that your plant has entered the final stage of its life. It won’t die right away — many Bromeliads can stick around for as long as three years after flowering. However, the main rosette will stop growing and expanding. Your plant’s energy will be diverted to the pups instead.
Bromeliads usually produce at least a few offsets before they perish. The longer you leave them attached to the main plant, the stronger they’ll be when you transplant them. But splitting them off sooner often prompts the parent Bromeliad to produce more. You can usually strike the right balance by propagating your Bromeliad pups once they’re about ⅓ of the size of the original.
At that point, the cycle begins again for each of your baby Bromeliads. If you nurture them well, they’ll grow strong and produce gorgeous blooms of their own.
Can a Bromeliad Bloom Again?
The cycle described above holds true for almost every type of Bromeliad — including the final stage. These plants are generally monocarpic, meaning they flower only once in their lives. You’ll need to raise the pups to maturity (or buy a new plant) if you want more Bromeliad blooms.
There are a few exceptions that will bloom every year, most of them in the Dyckia genus. These are tough Bromeliads adapted for desert regions, many sporting sharp spines and thick, succulent leaves. Dyckia blooms aren’t the most extravagant specimens in the Bromeliad family, but they can add a seasonal touch of cheerful color. Some varieties also have foliage that changes color in preparation for flowering.
How to Encourage Your Bromeliad to Flower
Some indoor gardeners are content to let their Bromeliads grow and bloom at their own pace. Others may be eager to speed them along so that they can get to the fireworks faster. It’s up to you which approach to take — for many people, it depends on how interesting the plant’s foliage looks on its own.
Provide Enough Sun For Bromeliad Blooms
The simplest thing you can do to get your Bromeliad to flower faster is to give it plenty of sunlight. These plants prefer mostly indirect light, but a few hours of direct sun exposure in the morning can jumpstart their growth with little risk. You could also try setting your Bromeliad four to six feet away from a southern or western window. If you hang some thin curtains, you can place the plant even closer to the light.
Bromeliads Need Hydration to Flower
Your plant will soak up water faster in a brighter and hotter location. Make sure you’re checking the pot regularly and watering your Bromeliad when the soil feels dry.
You can also help it stay hydrated by keeping the large dip or “tank” in the center of the foliage ⅓ full of water. (Not all Bromeliads have this feature, but many do). Just be sure to rinse it out every one to two weeks to prevent rot.
Fertilizer Helps Bromeliads Bloom
Flowering also requires plenty of nutrients, so make sure you’re fertilizing your Bromeliad regularly. Be careful, though — supplying more than the plant needs won’t push it to flower. It can actually have the opposite effect, encouraging leafy growth at the expense of blooms. A big enough overdose might also interfere with the roots and harm your Bromeliad.
Instead, it’s best to use a mild, balanced liquid fertilizer, applying a low dose every 3-6 weeks. Diluting it to ¼-½ of the strength recommended on the packaging is usually plenty. Do this only in spring and summer, unless you’re using a grow lamp to keep the plant active during winter.
Alternatively, you could sprinkle a single dose of a slow-release fertilizer onto the soil at the beginning of the spring. That should be plenty of nutrition for the entire growing season. Do not apply granular fertilizer to your Bromeliad’s tank!
Force Bromeliad Blooms With Ethylene
Those who really don’t want to wait for Bromeliad blooms can employ a nifty trick involving natural plant hormones. Like many other kinds of plants, Bromeliads regulate their flowering cycle using a chemical called ethylene. This slightly sweet-smelling gas is also released by many fruits as they ripen.
Pick up a ripe apple or banana from the grocery store. You’ll also need a clear plastic bag that’s large enough to fit over your entire Bromeliad. Drain any water from your Bromeliad’s tank, then place the fruit in its pot. Pop the bag over your plant and its container, tying it shut or cinching it around the lip of the pot with a rubber band.
The ethylene will slowly build up in the bag as the fruit continues to ripen. After about ten days, your Bromeliad should have gotten the message. Take it out of the bag, discard the fruit, and wait.
This trick won’t take effect right away, but within 6-14 weeks, your Bromeliad should begin flowering. Note that your plant still has to be mature and in good health for the ethylene trick to work. Don’t try it until your Bromeliad is at least a year old.
Caring for a Bromeliad After It Blooms
You don’t need to adjust your care habits much once your Bromeliad enters its period of senescence. Keep it well-lit without letting it get sunburned, water it when the soil dries out, and try to maintain the humidity at 50-70%. Provide moderate doses of fertilizer to ensure it has plenty of nutrients to keep growing pups.
It’s usually a good idea to snip off your Bromeliad Blooms once their beauty has faded. As long as they’re still attached, they’ll divert a small fraction of the parent plant’s resources. Removing them will help your Bromeliad turn its full attention to growing the next generation.
Get a nice sharp set of bypass pruners and swab the blades with rubbing alcohol. Then snip off the flower stalk as close to the base as possible. If your Bromeliad’s inflorescence is tucked inside the “tank” at the center of the plant, you can pinch the dead bloom off with your fingers or scoop it out with a spoon.
Different Types of Bromeliads and Their Blooms
You can often tell what type of Bromeliad you’re looking at by examining the inflorescence it creates. Here’s a brief guide to the blooms of several popular varieties.
- Guzmania: The inflorescence of these Bromeliads is often described as a fountain shape — they typically form inverted cones with several tiers of spiraling, spreading bracts. Bright, solid colors are common, often at the warm end of the spectrum.
- Aechmea: Aechmea blooms often look quite feathery, and their flower stalks may split off into numerous branches. Many varieties have vivid, contrasting hues that give them a somewhat alien appearance.
- Vriesea: These plants tend to produce tall but flat inflorescences that resemble fans or blades, sometimes with feather-like elements similar to Aechmeas. Bright oranges, reds, and yellows are common.
- Neoregelia. Unlike most Bromeliad blooms, the inflorescence of a Neoregelia stays inside the central tank, often partly submerged. The surrounding foliage tends to light up with dazzling flushes of color.
- Tillandsia. Also known as Air Plants, Tillandsias lean toward pink and purple in their flowers, though they appear in a startling diversity of shapes. Some produce slender tubular bracts, while others send out inflorescences resembling miniature Vriesea or Aechmea blooms. Their foliage may turn a brilliant red or rose color while they’re in bloom.
- Dyckia. As noted above, Dyckias tend to be prickly plants resembling cacti. They extend very long, slender flower spikes that sprout bright blossoms in a ladder-like structure.
- Hechtia. Similar to Dyckias, many Hechtias are reblooming succulents. Their inflorescences aren’t usually very showy or colorful, though, and most people grow them as foliage plants.
- Billbergia. The inflorescences of Billbergias fade much more quickly than most other Bromeliad blooms. The flower stalks often bend over and droop downward gracefully, sheathed in colorful, delicate-looking bracts.
It’s hard for words, or even photographs, to do justice to the sheer beauty of Bromeliad blooms. Keeping your plant in good health is the best thing you can do to ensure that its flowers live up to their full potential. Too many indoor gardeners keep these species in low light, slowing down their growth and suppressing their startling colors. Give your Bromeliad what it needs to flourish, and you’ll see for yourself how breathtaking its blooms can be.