Cryptanthus Bromeliads are a rather funky looking houseplant with stiff, slightly coarse leaves. Also known as Earth star due to its interesting shape, the species is available in countless colorful and less colorful varieties. As an added bonus, they are not too difficult to care for at all when provided with the right conditions!
Keep reading to find out how to care for and grow Earth stars in your own home.
|Name(s) (common, scientific)||Earth star Bromeliad, Cryptanthus sp.|
|Recommended lighting||Indirect light|
|Soil type||Moisture retaining|
Unlike most other Bromeliad types, these Earth stars (as the name suggests) are not epiphytic but terrestrial, meaning they grow in soil instead of attached to trees.
There are over 80 species of Cryptanthus, although not all of them are grown as houseplants. The most popular one for indoor growing looks to be Cryptanthus bivittatus. This one, as well as most other members of the genus, are naturally found on rainforest floors in Brazil. The Atlantic Rainforest in particular is home to a huge variety of these Bromeliads.
Cryptanthus light & temperature
Because Earth stars naturally occur on rainforest floors, they will appreciate similar conditions in your home. Forest floors don’t naturally receive a lot of sunlight, as most of it is blocked out by larger trees, so strong direct sun is not needed to keep your Cryptanthus happy.
This doesn’t mean this is a “low-light” or “no light” plant either, though. In fact, many varieties will lose their beautiful coloration if light is lacking! This especially applies to Cryptanthus bivittatus, which can turn from a lovely pink to a dull green, so keep this species close to a window.
Unless you live in a very moderate climate, Earth stars are strictly indoor plants for most of the year, as they do best at room temperature.
You can grow yours in a shaded spot outdoors during the summer months, but be sure to avoid any extremes.
As discussed above, Cryptanthus Bromeliads will thrive in humid environments reminiscent of their natural rainforest habitat. This thirst for humidity makes them the perfect choice for a plant terrarium. This can mean anything from an actual terrarium to a cookie jar, as long as it’s able to keep moisture inside without being completely closed off.
If you don’t want to grow your plant in a terrarium, you can also opt for any type of normal planter. Just avoid very small containers: Cryptanthus root systems can grow quite large, so a relatively wide planter is recommended. Make sure there’s a drainage hole in the bottom and you’re good to go!
When it comes to soil, it’s all about balance. Like many rainforest plants, Earth stars love soil that can maintain high moisture levels but don’t like standing in water all the time. Thus, you’ll need a mix that has both a water-retaining element to make sure it doesn’t dry out, as well as a gritty element to make sure the excess drains.
A regular potting soil with some Sphagnum moss or coco coir should work well. For drainage, add a handful of perlite or orchid bark.
Watering & humidity for Cryptanthus
As should probably be clear by now, Earth star Bromeliads prefer to be kept relatively moist. However, care should still be taken to avoid overwatering them. These plants do rot when water is allowed to stand in the container for too long, which can quickly result in fatalities!
There is no set watering schedule. Just water your Cryptanthus when you notice the soil starting to dry out.
If you’re using a regular pot with a drainage hole, you can help keep your Earth star’s moisture level up by placing it on a humidity tray with some pebbles and a layer of water. This allows the plant to slowly soak up the water during the course of the day.
Unsurprisingly, a tropical water lover like this one will also really appreciate relatively high air humidity levels. If your home is on the dry side, it can start to suffer.
Provide your Cryptanthus with the humidity it craves by placing it in a more humid area in your home (like the kitchen or bathroom), running a humidifier, grouping houseplants together or by growing it in a plant terrarium as described in the section on potting.
During the growing season, Earth stars will definitely appreciate some fertilizer. Any diluted, balanced houseplant fertilizer should work well. Feeding every two to four weeks while you water is a good place to start.
Avoid fertilizing plants during winter or whenever they’re not growing well.
If you notice your Earth star(s) blooming, they will unfortunately die soon. That’s how Bromeliads work: almost all species, including this one, are monocarpic. They only flower once and then perish.
No need to worry. After the plant has finished blooming, you should soon see small pups sprouting from the soil. Once these clones of the mother plant have some leaves of their own, you can remove and replant them.
This way you’ll never run out of Earth stars even when the original specimen dies off. For more information about propagating Cryptanthus and other Bromeliads, have a look at the guide to Bromeliad propagation.
You should be able to find Earth stars in most normal garden and plant stores, though they might be a little difficult to spot because of the sheer amount of differently colored and shaped types available.
You can also buy Earth stars online!
Is Cryptanthus toxic to cats and dogs?
The ASPCA lists Cryptanthus as non-toxic to both cats and dogs. Yay!
If you have any more questions about Cryptanthus/Earth star Bromeliad care or want to share your own experiences with this interesting oddity, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
Cover photo: © hilmawan nurhatmadi on Shutterstock.