How much sunlight does your Bromeliad need to grow and stay healthy? The answer will depend on many factors, including the season, the humidity level, and, most importantly, the specific type of plant you have. Still, you can often figure out the right lighting for Bromeliads by paying attention to a few important clues.
Bromeliads with thin, pliable, green leaves usually do best with bright indirect light. Species with stiff, spiky leaves can often benefit from some direct sun. You may be able to use brighter lighting for Bromeliads than usual if the plants are well-watered and the humidity is high.
We’ll go over some of the most common varieties of Bromeliad and explain what types of lighting they prefer. But don’t forget that there can still be a lot of individual variation based on local conditions like temperature. No set of instructions can take the place of paying attention to how your plant responds to the light it’s getting.
What Kind of Bromeliad Do You Have?
If all you know about your plant is that it’s a Bromeliad, it can be hard to figure out the correct lighting. The level of diversity within this plant family is mind-blowing, and different kinds may be suited to very different growing conditions. Some can tolerate bright, direct sunlight, while others may burn unless their light is soft and filtered.
You can often tell the difference by looking at the leaves. Most Bromeliad species that grow in direct sunlight have adapted by developing thicker, stiffer foliage. They may look more like succulents than their softer-leaved cousins. Many feature saw-toothed leaves that make them a bit more difficult to handle without getting jabbed.
So, in general, Bromeliads with stiffer or spikier leaves can handle some direct sun. Bromeliads with floppy, smooth leaves should be kept out of direct sunlight as much as possible. You’ll still want to make sure the filtered light they receive is nice and bright, though.
Leaf color is another helpful indicator. Bromeliads with more gray or silvery color in their foliage are better at tolerating direct sun exposure. They’re generally coated with small reflective hairs called trichomes that help to protect them from harsh lighting.
As with all houseplant rules, there are exceptions. When choosing lighting for Bromeliads, you should always look up instructions by species if possible. But if you don’t know exactly what kind you’re growing, the guidelines above are usually trustworthy.
Lighting For Bromeliads by Genus
Here are a few of the most common Bromeliads grown as houseplants and their sunlight preferences:
Guzmania: Bright Indirect Light
You’ve probably seen Guzmanias if you’ve ever visited the garden section of a big home improvement store. They’re the Bromeliads that grow lotus-like flower stalks that look almost too vivid to be real. The flexibility and deep green color of its blade-shaped leaves are clues to the Guzmania’s preference for soft lighting.
Neoregelia: Mixed Lighting
Neoregelias tend to grow long leaves with rounded ends. While they don’t form tall blooms like many other Bromeliads, they often make up for it with their colorful foliage. Many will have especially vivid colors inside the “well” in the center of the leaves.
Neoregelias can handle a few hours of direct sunlight per day and will often be more colorful if they get it. The rest of the day, they should be in dappled shade or indirect light.
Dyckia: Direct Sunlight
If you’ve never seen a Dyckia plant before, you might guess it was some type of cactus or Snake Plant rather than a Bromeliad. The leaves tend to be fleshy and rigid, with dramatic spines along the edges. This is one of the best types of Bromeliad for a south-facing room that gets a lot of direct sunlight. They can adapt to shady conditions, but they’re more sun-loving than most of their relatives.
Vrisea: Indirect Light
If a Vrisea is in bloom, it’s easy to recognize. Its inflorescence (flower stalk) shoots straight up from the center of the plant, forming a flattened, brightly colored paddle shape. The much-loved Flaming Sword Bromeliad is a Vrisea, but there are many other spectacular varieties to choose from. Vriseas can’t withstand direct sunlight and are often the best Bromeliads for low-light environments.
Aechmea: Mixed Lighting
The Aechmea genus is often where people get started growing Bromeliads. These plants are known for their gorgeous, colorful, upright blooms. Many also sport mottled or banded foliage, adding to their interest. Aechmeas often have spines along their leaves.
Aechmeas vary quite a bit in their light tolerance, but all appreciate bright, filtered light. Most will also benefit from a few hours of direct light, especially from east-facing windows, which are brightest during the coolest part of the day. A few Aechmea species can even grow in full sun, though these may not be easy to find in your area.
Puya: Direct Sunlight
These plants hail from alpine environments and are more tolerant of cold, drought, and bright light than many other Bromeliads. Puyas tend to form spiky balls of leaves, with inflorescences that shoot up and sprout colorful flowers. Some can also grow to towering sizes — the tallest Bromeliad in the world is Puya Raimondii, the Queen of the Andes, which can reach 50 feet in height!
Puya Bromeliads aren’t commonly sold as houseplants. But if you can locate one, it will grow happily indoors as long as you give it plenty of sun and don’t water it too much. Just don’t expect it to get as big as it would outdoors.
Billbergia: Indirect Light
The defining characteristic of Billbergias is the graceful shape of their blooms. Their flower spikes arc up and out, forming a graceful trailing shape like the tendril of a willow tree. A Billbergia is best kept out of direct light entirely. Bright but indirect light will keep it happy.
Cryptanthus: Mixed Lighting
The Cryptanthus, or Earth Stars are terrestrial Bromeliads. Unlike many other members of the family, they can only grow in soil, not on rocks or tree branches. (Though when growing them indoors, you should still use a soilless potting mix.)
Lighting requirements are highly variable within the Cryptanthus genus, but in general, they prefer a mix of sun and shade. Don’t be afraid to let this plant get a few hours of direct sun every day. Just try to make sure it’s shaded when the light is brightest and hottest.
Tillandsia: Mixed Lighting
Better known as Air Plants, Tillandsias are known for growing with no soil at all, using their roots only to hold them in place. The lighting requirements within this genus vary considerably. Those with an extremely silver-gray color can often handle quite a bit of direct light and may do poorly in dimmer spaces. Green Air Plants prefer dappled or reflected light.
Getting the Perfect Lighting For Bromeliads
We can’t stress enough that the lighting requirements listed above are just general rules. A Bromeliad’s ability to withstand sunlight can change depending on many factors. Here are a few advanced tips to help you position your plant in the perfect spot.
Indirect vs. Dim Lighting For Bromeliads
You’ll get the most robust growth and flowering from your Bromeliad if you give it six to eight hours of light each day. The only thing that truly differs between species is how much of that light should be direct vs. indirect.
But remember that “indirect light” isn’t the same thing as “dim light”. When you read that a plant needs some shade, you should be picturing the kind of soft, dappled, shifting light that falls through a screen of leaves. That’s still a lot more illumination than an indoor room with the blinds drawn.
If you move your plant four to six feet away from a window, it will receive bright, indirect light even when the sun is streaming directly through the glass. (The exact distance may vary if the window is very tall or short, but this is a good estimate.) Any further back, and your Bromeliad probably won’t be getting enough sun to grow with vigor.
Another way to soften the light is to filter it through some wispy curtains. This will decrease the brightness a bit, but more importantly, it will scatter the light and make it less direct. Materials like muslin, chiffon, or polyester can all work. The specific type of curtains doesn’t matter as much as the thickness — they should be translucent but not transparent.
Direct sunlight can scorch a Bromeliad by dehydrating the leaves. This happens much more easily if the plant is already thirsty, or if the air is very dry. If you aren’t watering your Bromeliad frequently enough, its tolerance for sun exposure will be lower.
Humidity also helps protect a plant against the effects of harsh sunlight. Unfortunately, unless you live in the tropics, your home is probably drier than your Bromeliad would prefer. When placing these plants in very sunny locations, consider setting up a humidifier nearby. A relative humidity of about 65-75% will help Bromeliads tolerate more sun.
Lighting and Heat For Bromeliads
High ambient temperatures can also make a Bromeliad more vulnerable to sunburn. A few hours of direct sunlight can feel very different in the cool early morning than the baking heat of a summer afternoon. The positioning of windows will affect what time they get the most light:
- East-facing windows are lit up in the early morning, making them the gentlest sources of direct light. Most Bromeliads can tolerate at least a little bit of eastern exposure.
- South-facing windows admit direct light for much more of the day than other directions. They’re brightest at midday but will still get some direct light during the hottest part of the day.
- West-facing windows don’t get as much light as south-facing ones, but they’re lit up in the afternoon and evening, making them harsher than east windows.
- North-facing windows get no direct light and are safe for any Bromeliads but may not provide enough light for the most colorful ones.
Seasonal variations matter, too. A south-facing spot that’s too bright for your plant in July might be perfect in December. Of course, poorly insulated windows might let in too much cold to keep a Bromeliad nearby in the winter.
Tolerance is Different From Preference
Are Bromeliads “low-light plants”? That depends entirely on what you mean. Most of them can survive in low-light conditions (though Dyckias and Puyas might not). But they also need the sun’s energy to produce their beautiful flowers and bold colors.
More solar energy means:
- More vigorous growth
- Brighter foliage coloring
- Bigger, longer-lasting blooms
- Decreased time between propagation and flowering
So brighter lighting for Bromeliads is almost always better, as long as the sun isn’t so harsh that it damages the leaves. The trick is to find the sweet spot where your plant gets as many photons as possible without burning.
Bromeliads Can Adjust to Brighter Lighting
When you think about it, it might seem weird that plants can get sunburned. After all, they normally grow outdoors, where the light is generally brighter than it is in our homes. Even Bromeliads growing in tropical rainforests typically get more sun throughout the day than houseplants.
A huge part of the difference comes down to acclimation. Individual plants can build up a tolerance for sunlight if they’re exposed to it regularly, and an outdoor Bromeliad spends its whole life in the same spot. When a houseplant gets sunburned, it’s often because it’s been moved abruptly into much harsher light.
The solution is to make a gradual transition from one type of lighting to another. Let your Bromeliad spend an hour or two a day in a brighter, hotter location. Every few days, increase its time in the sun by an hour. Once it can spend the whole day there without getting burned, the move is complete.
Even if you follow this advice, there are limits to how much sunlight some Bromeliads can tolerate. But they’re often more adaptable than you might guess from their standard care instructions.
Is Your Bromeliad’s Lighting Too Bright?
Are you wondering if you’ve accidentally placed your Bromeliad somewhere with too much sun? You can often tell by looking at the coloring of the leaves.
Harsh lighting for Bromeliads tends to bleach and discolor the leaf surfaces to paler hues than usual. If your plant has patterns on its leaves, they’ll often appear washed-out, faded, and indistinct. Yellowing is another common sign.
Excessive sunlight can also cause burned spots on the leaves. Sometimes they’ll appear a light khaki color; other times, they’ll look dark brown or crispy black. Either way, a sunburn spot will have a dry, papery texture. They’ll be found mainly on the uppermost surfaces of your Bromeliad’s leaves and on the side facing the nearest window.
Since leaf scorch involves dehydration, your Bromeliad might also look thirsty. Wilting, curling leaves can be signs of moisture loss due to overly bright sun.
When this happens, the only solution is to move your Bromeliad to a cooler or shadier spot. Don’t place it in dim light, but do get it away from all direct sun for a week or two. Check the soil, too — there’s a good chance it’s dried out, in which case you should water the plant thoroughly.
There’s not much you can do about the damaged leaves. Feel free to prune them if they’re too unsightly, sanitizing your pruning shears with rubbing alcohol first. If your Bromeliad is badly sunburned, you may want to leave the healthy portions of the leaves in place. Removing more than ⅓ of the leaf tissue at once could be too stressful for your plant.
Is Your Bromeliad Getting Too Little Sunlight?
A Bromeliad that’s only slightly under-lit may not show many signs of distress. Most likely, it will simply grow very sluggishly. When you’re raising a Bromeliad from a pup in dim lighting, it might take five or six years before flowering.
Unless you live near the tropics, you’ll see a milder version of this effect every winter. The shorter days, colder temperatures, and lower humidity prevent the plant from growing. This is generally referred to as “dormancy”, though it’s different from the extreme metabolic slowdown seen in deciduous plants.
Extremely dim lighting may cause etiolation. This happens when a Bromeliad is so starved for light that it prioritizes leaf length over everything else in an attempt to reach a less shady spot.
An etiolated Bromeliad will have longer, thinner foliage than normal. The leaves will often be spaced oddly far apart, making the plant appear “spread too thin.” Their coloring may also be a deeper-than-usual green, caused by an overproduction of chlorophyll that’s meant to maximize light absorption.
You can correct this by moving the plant to better lighting. Just remember our advice above and make the change a little bit at a time. The existing leaves will stay etiolated, but your Bromeliad should start producing more healthy growth.
Artificial Lighting for Bromeliads
It may not be easy to get the right lighting for Bromeliads if you’re relying on natural sunlight. Or maybe you’d like your plant to continue growing all year round. In that case, it’s best to invest in some grow lights.
You’re shooting for an intensity of 12-15,000 lux — that’s typically the sweet spot for Bromeliads. This value depends on the strength of your grow light, the width of the beam, and how high above the plant you hang it. Luckily, this wonderful website will do the calculations for you. All you need is the beam angle and lumen rating of the light, which should be on the packaging.
LED lights are generally best for Bromeliads. They’re extremely efficient and hardly give off any heat, so you don’t need to worry about burning the leaves. Or you could use fluorescent grow lights if you’re concerned that your Bromeliad won’t be warm enough in the winter.
Either way, it’s best to get full-spectrum grow lights. This ensures your plant will get all the wavelengths of light it needs.
Remember that if your Bromeliad is subsisting on artificial light, you’ll have to keep the lamps turned on for at least 12-14 hours per day. (But make sure to allow at least six hours of darkness every night for proper flowering). You can take a look at all of our favorite lamps and timers.
Finding the best lighting for Bromeliads can require a little experimentation. The most important piece of advice we can give you is not to rush it. Make any changes slowly, giving your plant time to adjust to the new brightness level.
When in doubt, bright but filtered light is almost always a safe bet. With a bit of trial and hopefully not too much error, you should find the lighting conditions that make your Bromeliad come alive.