Most Americans who travel to the tropics are tickled pink when they see their first pineapple plant outdoors boasting an attractive fruit. The welcoming pineapple is perhaps the most famous bromeliad in the entire world – but it’s by far not the only one, as there are more than 2,500 species! If you have a warm, sunny room in your home that could use a little more life, consider a bromeliad houseplant. Featuring silvery, cardboard-like or toothed leaves, sun-tolerant bromeliads are great low-maintenance houseplants that hold architectural interest and exotic flair.

Bromeliad mix

Bright sunlight is good for some bromeliad species. It intensifies their foliage colors and patterns, as well as keeps their forms compact.

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

Aechmea

This flowering Aechmea has spined, banded leaves that form a cylindrical water reservoir called a “vase” or “tank.”

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

Dyckia

Featuring robust wine-red foliage, Dyckia is a cool-looking bromeliad. But be careful – it has vicious spines!

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

Tillandsia stricta

If it’s properly watered and given ample bright light, Tillandsia stricta blooms in midsummer.

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

Neoregelias

Hundreds of Neoregelia hybrids exist, providing great options for an array of foliage colors and patterns to delight the eye.

Photo Credit: James Burghardt

Of the eight genera (or botanical groupings) of bromeliads most commonly grown as houseplants, Aechmea, Cryptanthus, Neoregelia and Tillandsia are best grown in very bright windows for the best foliage color and flowering.

Sunny bromeliads have some basic growing requirements that are luckily met on most windowsills. First, bromeliads have small root systems that are nicely housed in small containers. Sun-loving bromeliads are able to survive lower humidity levels, as well as the occasional, “Oops, I forgot to water” syndrome. The foliage is often a cupped rosette, with concentric rows of leaves that form a central lower “vase” or “tank” that retains water, dust and debris. As long as these plants are grown in containers that have coarse, well-draining potting mix and water is retained in their tanks, a bromeliad endures as a long-lasting, low-maintenance houseplant for months or even years.

Light is important for the best bromeliad performance, provided it’s of the right intensity. In the home, rarely is hot sunlight present at a windowsill for more than a couple of hours. Simply moving a bromeliad away from a window can help you find the perfect amount of light. Place the most sun-tolerant species on the sill, and progressively situate pots of bromeliads that look best with slightly less direct sun further away from the southern or western windows.

Forget about fertilizing your bromeliad houseplants. A couple pellets of slow-release granules are good in the potting mix, but otherwise, leave your bromeliads alone. Placing fertilizer into their leaf bases causes fast growth that actually ruins the architectural form of the plants, and it diminishes colorful leaf stripes, blushes or mottling.

So how much sun do these sun-loving beauties really need? I’ve listed the following genera and species from the most sun-loving down to those that like just a dappled bit of sun and only very bright indirect light in the home.

The most famous Aechmea is simply called the vase plant, Aechmea fasciata. Its silvery light-green leaves are striped and arching, and they’ll produce a rounded, spiked stalk of pink bracts that last for weeks or months. There are 200 other species of Aechmea, all of which need a coarse potting mix or bark, as well as bright light to direct sun. The leaves are long and strappy, with small to large teeth on their edges; choose these plants carefully so you don’t have a 4-foot-tall monster sitting by the sofa! As long as water remains in the leaf tank, most Aechmea can handle at least four hours of direct sun in southern or western windowsills. Leaf stripes and seasonal leaf color blushes occur only in adequate lighting. Dim light causes elongated, leggy plants.

Air plants, Tillandsia, include the romantic dripping clumps of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) known in the American South. With 500 species, air plants make up the largest genus of all bromeliads, and they all vary in size, leaf shape, thickness, color and form. From the fuzzy, white leaves of Tillandsia tectorum to the French-curl foliage of Tillandsia streptophylla, air plants tolerate arid air and very bright light, some over 4 hours of direct sunlight. Keep in mind that thin-leaved species like Tillandsia filifolia or those with green leaves like Tillandsia capitata are not well-suited to as sunny or arid of conditions and should receive very bright light but no direct sun. Air plants must not be placed in soil, but are best in a pot of bark chips or tied upon a wood basket or piece of cork. These bromeliads lack a water-containing tank, and thus water must quickly drip and drain away fully from the foliage to prevent rot. Douse plants by fully submerging them in water and allowing them to drip dry.

The foliage royalty of bromeliads, Neoregelia, bears magnificently-colored leaves with speckles, stripes or blushes. Red- and purple-leaved selections often tolerate much more direct sunlight than those with variegated green, gold or white leaves. At least two hours of direct sun (especially in morning or late afternoon) will intensify the leaf hues, but be prepared to lessen light exposures if leaves look bleached, which means heat from the light exposure is excessive and humidity is too low. Enjoy the tiny, lavender flowers in the flooded mass in the central tank of the leaf rosette, but don’t expect anything upright and showy like that of an Aechmea.

Earth stars, Cryptanthus, are a group of ground-dwelling bromeliads that grow in regular potting soils. Their low-sprawling, wavy, toothed leaf rosettes resemble clusters of starfish. Avoid placing these plants in direct sunlight, but give them very bright indirect light, like that found about 5 feet away from a southern or eastern window. Direct sun bleaches out leaves to nearly white; too low of light diminishes pink or red leaf color blushes or makes stripes turn into a solid mundane green.

Place sun-loving bromeliads at a distance from windows until you find the perfect location for your plants’ best growth and appearance. On a hot, sunny window ledge, place a Dyckia and a pineapple with an Aechmea nearby, just in front of the window. For bright foliage splendor in the middle of a sunny room, try Neoregelia and Billbergia in a decorative basket or pot at the base of a chair or sofa, along with Cryptanthus just out of the reach of the sunshine.

Regardless of which houseplant bromeliads you choose, these beauties are certain to bring an exotic, tropical feel to your interior décor – as well as a sunny disposition!