We usually look for color in blooms in our gardens but there is one genus of plants that gives you spectacular color in its foliage. Bromeliads provide a rainbow of color in its thick striking foliage because in many varieties of bromeliads the bloom is not blinging, or in some cases the plant only blooms every five years. Neoregelias are the largest genus of bromeliads and have the largest spectrum of color variations from stripping, to mottling (dot markings), and painted tips. One of my favorite neos is called ‘painted fingernails” because the foliage is dark green except for the tips which are blood red. The neos have the most vivid variations in the foliage of all bromeliads as its bloom is nothing to speak of, so the vibrant foliage is nature way of compensating. Other bromeliads like Guzmanias have more showy and long-lasting blooms but the foliage is just green. And then there are those bromeliads that give you two-for-the-money, great blooms and vivid foliage. The Aechmea blanchetiana is a very large bromeliad growing five feet high by five feet wide with vibrant large strap-like golden foliage and when they bloom there is an amazing spray of cobalt blue blooms.
The Alcantera imperalis rubra is one of the largest and hardiest bromeliads. Imperalis is massive spreading six feet wide by six feet tall feet. The large semi-rounded leaves of this big girl are reddish purple on top and green on the bottom. The Alcantera imperalis rubra can survive outdoors year around zones 9 and 10, and when it finally blooms (in fifteen years) it sends out a bloom spike that shoots up feet.
Alcantera imperalis rubra Alcantera imperalis in bloom (fifteen year old plant)
Foolproof care for bromeliads: We are told to keep water in the cup/center of our bromeliads, and we usually keep them indoors as house plants, and the center rots out and the plant dies. This is because some important information is omitted in those instructions. First understand that bromeliads are not like other plants as they are not fed from their roots. The root of the bromeliad is basically for anchoring the plant as most bromeliads grow in the wild attached to trees or telephone posts because they are mostly epiphytes (they do not need soil to survive). All bromeliads are covered with thousands of microscopic scales, and the scales capture moisture and nutrients to feed the plant. Water in the cup/center of bromeliads is only necessary if the bromeliad is kept outdoors because during the heat of the day the water in the cup of the bromeliad provides humidity which the scales can absorb. If the plant is indoors do not keep water in the cup but mist the plant well all over daily so that the scales can do their work. Only after the soil is completely dry should you water the "soil" and not the bromeliad. After watering the soil, pour out any excess water as bromeliads do not like wet feet. Misting is the most important thing that you can do for bromeliads.
This article published in Data News Weekly May 12, 2012: