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What is Bromeliaceae?

By Angie Bates
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Bromeliaceae, or the bromeliads, is a family of flowering plants consisting of approximately 45 genera and 2,000 species. These plants are all native to tropical regions of North, Central, and South America, except for a single species, Pitcairnia feliciana which is found in Africa. Bromeliaceae species are usually characterized by their scale-like leaves, and many species, such as Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, attach themselves to other trees or plants. This family is sometimes called the Pineapple family because it includes the pineapple plant, Ananas comosus.

Most bromeliaceae species are medium-sized plants, although some may be woody and a few are trees. The two most common genera in bromeliaceae are Tillandsia, which houses most of the epiphytic plants, or those that grow on other plants without being parasitic, and Hechtia which includes many ground plants with rosettes of long, stiff, spiky leaves similar to agave plants.

One of the most well-known plants in the Tillandsia genus, Spanish moss, is found primarily in Louisiana and Florida in the United States. Not actually a moss, this plant grows on cypress, oak, and elm trees in long hanging curtains. Spanish moss consists of grayish bark surrounding a fibrous interior. The interior was once used for mattress stuffing and still is found as stuffing in some more expensive furniture because it is a natural insect repellent.

Like other epiphytic plants, Spanish moss is an air plant, meaning it absorbs nutrients directly from the air instead of the soil. The roots of these plants just serve to hold them to the tree and do not provide them with water or nutrients as is usual with most plants. Spanish moss is propagated by fragments which are carried to other trees by birds.

Texas false agave, Hechtia texensis, is an example of a plant in the Hechtia genus. It consists of a rosette of spiky leaves between 12–24 inches (30–60 cm) tall. Rosettes may be up to 20 inches (50 cm) around. These plants are drought tolerant and enjoy full or partial sunlight.

Although pineapples are not in the Hechtia genus, they do share characteristics with the bulk of those plants. Their leaves grow in rosette shapes, that may be up to 4 feet tall (1.2 m), and the fruit grows about six to eight months after the plant blooms. Very drought resistant, pineapple plants do not do well with lots of watering or in below-freezing temperatures. Pineapples are an important crop in Hawaii and can be grown in parts of the Southwestern United States, such as Arizona. They are also grown in the Philippines, South Africa, and Asia.

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