There are about 2,500 species and several thousand hybrids and cultivars of bromeliads, a family of plants native to North and South America known to have brightly colored leaves and flowers or fruit. The plants, which are in the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), range in size from the epiphytic plants in the Tillandsia genus to the gargantuan Puya raimondii (USDA hardiness zones 9-10), the largest bromeliad, which can grow up to 15 feet tall with a flower spike of 30 feet tall. About half of the species grow on the ground, while the remainder is known as epiphytes, or air plants that grow on trees or rocks. Bromeliads are also easy to care for and make great indoor plants that are sure to brighten any home with their lush, colorful leaves. The eight most commonly cultivated genera of bromeliads are Aechmea, Billbergia, Cryptanthus, Ananas, Guzmania, Neoregelia, Tillandsia and Vriesea.
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Plants in the Aechmea genus are known for their spearlike foliage, which can reach about 4 feet and has sharp-spined leaves. Plants produce eye-grabbing bright pink flowers and, they're both drought tolerant and semi-succulent.
Plants in the Billbergia genus are urn-shaped and tall with leaves that have spiny edges. The foliage is often multi-colored, banded or mottled.
The leaves of plants in the Cryptanthus genus often grow low to the earth in a star-like arrangement. They're small and grown mainly as foliage plants with tiny white flowers emerging low in the cups.
The pineapple (Ananas comosus, zones 10-12) is a member of the Ananas genus. A colorful form of this species has green, cream and pink striped leaves and a smaller species has grayish-green leaves surrounding a 15-inch spike of red buds.
These are some of the most popular bromeliad houseplants. There are 214 species in the Guzmania genus, including hybrids. They have a weak root system, a large well of leaves that holds the plant's water supply and have adapted to loose or rocky soil. They generally have dark green leaves and are fountain-like in shape with colorful bracts.
Plants in the Neoregelia genus usually have broad, mostly-flat leaves and are often grown for their multi-colored foliage, which tends to be banded or striped. The center is often brightly colored in shades of red, yellow, pink or orange.
These are often called "air plants," which lack roots entirely and live on sandy soil. The Tillandsia genus contain about 730 species, which come in varying shapes, colors and sizes.
The Vriesea genus is similar to the Guzmania genus, the primary difference being that Vriesea species plants tend to grow soilless on tree branches and their roots are meant only to hold them in place rather than absorb nutrients. They produce a single flower per plant and grow in reds, yellows and pinks.