Some bromeliads are special because of their colorful leaves, but those in the Vriesea genus are known for their bold, bright flower spikes. These tall, narrow spikes come in blazing hues of red, orange, and yellow, lending the plants in this genus the nickname of “flowering sword.”
Not all Vriesea bromeliads have the tall, colorful flower spike, but most do. These spikes can be a single column or might have multiple branches. Those species that don’t have bold flowers typically have foliage with interesting patterns and colors.
These plants hail from Central and South America, and the genus encompasses some of the most petite and some of the largest bromeliads, with a few that can reach up to five feet tall.
- Genus: Vriesea
- Native To: Central and South America
- Sun Exposure: Typically bright indirect or diffused light
- Soil Preference: Well-draining loam or bark and moss
- Soil pH: 5.0-6.0
- Blossom Color: Red, yellow, orange, green
- Growing Zones: 10-11
Caring for Vriesea Bromeliads:
These plants can tolerate temperatures from 35-90°F for a short period, but 50-80°F is ideal. A freeze will kill the plant.
As epiphytes, which are plants that grow attached to other plants, they don’t use their roots to access water and nutrition in the soil. Instead, they gather what they need through their leaves.
Vriesea bromeliads are adaptable when it comes to light. The key is to adjust the humidity depending on the light conditions. Most plants in this genus can handle direct light but they require high humidity, or their leaves will be scorched by the sun.
Bright light ensures the boldest coloring in the flowers and leaves. Avoid direct sun in the heat of the afternoon, but direct sun in the morning is fine. When not in direct sun, keep the plant within a few feet of a window covered in a sheer curtain.
Plant in light, airy soil. Use a cactus or orchid medium. Standard potting soil is too heavy.
As with many other bromeliads, these plants have a “cup” made up of the tight rosette of leaves that forms at the center of the plant. This cup holds water and debris to nourish the plant. Your job is to keep that tank full of water.
Use rainwater or distilled water, if possible. Pour water into this cup but not onto the soil. If the soil is wet, it can lead to root rot.
Every few weeks to every few months, depending on what kind of water you use, flush the cup out to remove any build-up.
These plants prefer high humidity, with at least 50% relative humidity. Remember, they need more humidity when they’re growing in bright sun. Those in darker areas can get by with lower humidity.
If you don’t naturally have moderate to high humidity, place the plants in a bathroom or near the kitchen sink. You can also use a humidifier or group plants together.
Feed your plants once in spring using a mild, balanced fertilizer. Look for something with a 1-1-1 or 2-2-2 NPK. If you choose something stronger, dilute it in water. Apply the water-soluble fertilizer to the soil, not in the cup.
Potting or Mounting
As epiphytes, Vriesea species need to either be mounted using a moss base attached to a wood or rock foundation or planted in a small container. A large container increases the chances of root rot. Choose a pot that is two or three times the size of the root base or about a fourth as large as the leafy tops.
Best Species and Cultivars
Technically, V. splendens is the species known as flaming swords, though all of the plants in this genus are sometimes called by this moniker. This species has tall, red, or orange inflorescences that can be twice as long as the leaves themselves, stretching up to 18 inches tall.
The leaves are typically green or dark green with bands of light green, though there are dozens of cultivars with different hues. ‘Intenso Orange,’ for instance, has orange blossoms and solid leaves.
The flammea species has solid green leaves that feature a freckled red base. ‘Astrid,’ a hybrid, has a reddish-pink flower spike with multiple branches.
While the flower spike might be the most exciting part of many Vriesea bromeliads, they’re also a signal that the plant is nearing the end of its life. Once a bromeliad blooms, it dies.
Don’t fret, you can continue your plant’s life by propagating the offsets, often known as pups. Wait until the plant has flowered, and snip off the pups with a sharp, clean knife or clippers.
Plant this in the same type of soil you grow the mature plants in. Water the soil when the top inch dries out until the cup is fully developed and can hold water. Then, only water by keeping the cup full.
Common Problems, Pests, and Diseases
Healthy Vriesea bromeliads in the right light and with the right amount of water will rarely experience pests or diseases. For houseplants, mealybugs and spider mites are most common. Overwatering can cause root rot.