No one is crying when a Queen’s tears bromeliad (Billbergia nutans) is nearby. It has large, gracefully arching, thick evergreen leaves on a foot-and-a-half tall plant. But it’s the long, weeping stems tipped with showy flowers that make the plant a joy to have around.
The flowers feature large pink bracts that hold flowers with green petals trimmed in bright blue. While the plant dies after it blooms, while it’s in bloom, it’s an impressive sight. It’s the perfect option if you want an easy-going but attention-grabbing houseplant.
Native to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, this plant grows in warm, humid areas. The name comes from the sappy liquid that drips out of the flowers.
- Genus: Billbergia
- Species: nutans
- Native To: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay
- Sun Exposure: Morning sun or bright, indirect or diffused light
- Soil Preference: Well-draining loam or bark and moss
- Soil pH: 5.0-6.0
- Blossom Color: Pink bracts, and green and blue flowers
- Growing Zones: 9-11
Caring for Queen’s Tears:
Queen’s tears bromeliads are epiphytes, meaning that they grow while attached to other plants. They aren’t parasites, they just use the other plants as a support structure. They get nutrition and moisture through their leaves and flowers rather than through the roots, as with terrestrial plants.
Knowing this will help you better understand how to feed and care for a Queen’s tears bromeliad.
When growing them in your home, try to recreate the same conditions that they have in their warm, tropical environment. Temperatures between 60-75°F with a relative humidity over 50% are just right. These plants can tolerate down to 40°F and up to 95°F for brief periods.
As epiphytes, these plants are accustomed to growing under the canopy of larger trees, which means they aren’t evolved to tolerate direct light. Dappled light, weak morning sun, or indirect light are all ideal.
If you opt for morning light, place the plant a few feet away from an east-facing window. It shouldn’t receive any direct light after about 11:00 am. Indirect light would look like a west-facing window covered in a sheer curtain. The plant should be a few feet away so it doesn’t catch reflected heat off the window.
About three hours of direct light or six hours of bright, indirect light are needed for good leaf color and blooming.
Potting soil should be light, well-draining, and airy. The roots of epiphytes are extremely prone to rot, and heavy soil contributes to this physiological issue. A cactus or orchid potting medium is light and well-draining enough.
You can also make your own soil using three parts sphagnum moss, two parts sand, and one part loam.
You must be careful not to overwater epiphytes. Young plants require a different technique than older ones. For young plants, allow the soil to dry out completely between watering. If you stick your finger in the soil, it should feel completely dry. When you water, soak the soil until water runs out of the drainage holes.
Older plants develop a reservoir at the center of the rosette of leaves. Keep this tank filled at all times, and stop watering the soil entirely. Every few months, flush the tank to remove any debris or mineral build-up. If the water in the tank ever smells funky, dump it and refill it.
If you aren’t certain that you can avoid overwatering, mount your plants instead of placing them in soil. We’ll talk about that shortly.
Queen’s tears bromeliads are light feeders. Use a 1-1-1 or 2-2-2 NPK food once every three months from spring through fall. Apply the food to the soil rather than in the rosette, or use a water-soluble food and spray it on the leaves of the plant.
Potting or Mounting
If you opt to grow the plant in a pot, choose one that is only twice or three times as large as the rootball. A pot that is too large will promote overwatering or root rot. The pot must have good drainage.
Mounting is a good way to avoid overwatering, plus it makes for an interesting display. Wrap the roots in sphagnum moss and secure them to a piece of wood or rock. Water the reservoir or the moss base.
B. nutans is often called “friendship plant” because it’s easy to divide and propagate via pups. Spread it around to all your friends.
Once the plant starts to flower, it’s ending its lifecycle. This usually happens after two or three years. Most friendship plants bloom in the spring, but if it’s warm enough, they can flower at any time of year.
As the plant flowers, it sends out new offshoots, sometimes called pups, that can be used to reproduce the plant. Cut these little pups off and plant them in light soil. Keep the soil barely moist, so that it feels like a well-wrung-out sponge. Don’t mount them, if you choose to do so, until they have enough roots to do so.
Mind the spiked leaves as you work on it.
Common Problems, Pests, and Diseases
Provided that you give this plant the right amount of food and water and that you keep it in the correct light environment, you’ll rarely encounter pests or diseases.
Root rot is the most common disease and is caused by overwatering. Standing water or wet soil is a quick way to root rot.
Otherwise, aphids, mealybugs, and scale are known to attack Queen’s tears bromeliads.