Florida’s Native Bromeliads

Bromeliads are members of the pineapple family Bromeliaceae. They are perennial herbs that lack woody stems and typically grow on other plants or substrates. Bromeliads are not mosses as some of their common names suggest. They are flowering plants, although their blossoms can be very small.

All of Florida’s 16 native bromeliad species and two natural hybrids (hybrids are produced when cross-pollination occurs between species, producing a new offspring) are epiphytic, which means they grow on other plants. Although epiphytes may attach root structures to their host plant, they do not parasitize the host plant; they simply use it for support.

Often called “air plants,” bromeliads absorb surface minerals and water from specialized disc-shaped leaf structures called trichomes. Some Florida bromeliads are “tank” bromeliads that hold water between the leaf axils. Tanks are formed by many separate leaf axils (the space between the leaf and stem) or the central leaves together may form a large tank. Trapped plant materials (leaves, seeds, and twigs) are decomposed by bacteria and fungi and absorbed by the trichomes lining the bromeliad tanks. Sometimes found among these plant materials are dead and drowning non-aquatic insects, which also provide nutrients for the bromeliads. Catopsis berteroniana, a species of tank bromeliad found in south Florida, has evolved the ability to trap insects and use the nutrients to such a degree that it is essentially a carnivorous plant. Bromeliad tanks also provide habitat for mosquito larvae and various other invertebrate and small vertebrate animals. Consequently, bromeliads play important ecological roles, both as habitat and in nutrient recycling.