What Is Neoregelia?

Christian Petersen

Neoregelia is a genus of bromeliad plants, belonging to the Bromelioideae subfamily. This genus contains approximately 100 species, the exact number of which is difficult to determine because of the very large number of cultivars, sub-species, and expert opinions on classification. Nearly all species of Neoregelia are native and endemic to the rainforests of Brazil. They are popular plants for cultivation, both in warm areas of the world and in greenhouses in more temperate zones. Some species tolerate indoor conditions as well.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Plants belonging to the genus Neoregelia are all epiphytic in nature. This means that they do not grow in soil, but rather cling to trees and sometimes rocks, gathering moisture and nutrients from the air and the bark of the trees on which they anchor. Epiphytes are not parasitic and do not draw on their host for sustenance but only rely on the host tree for habitat. Species vary in size from a few inches to 3 to 4 feet (90 cm to 120 cm) across.

Like many ephiphytes and other plants native to the rainforests of Brazil, members of Neoregelia thrive in bright but indirect light. Their natural habitat is high above the forest floor where a large amount of light filters through the canopy above, but little direct light is found. They will tolerate some direct sun but prefer to be at least partially shaded. They can tolerate very high heat but like moist conditions. Most species can tolerate cold, even below freezing, for short periods but are not winter hardy.

Many bromeliads are popular as ornamental plants and Neoregelia contains many favorites of collectors and gardeners. A central stem radiates broad leaves in a rosette pattern, which points upward when new but gradually fold downwards. Leaf size and color vary widely, and these plants are known for their beautiful foliage, which can be brightly colored in many shades of green, red, pink, or yellow, and can exhibit mottling, striping, and marbling of these colors in a wide variety of patterns. At the center of the rosette a recessed cup forms where very small flowers, which can vary in color, are found. These plants are grown for their foliage rather than the flowers, which are small and unassuming.

While epiphytic in nature, Neoregelia are often grown in pots or even in the ground in landscaping. They require a loose, well drained soil that is neutral or slightly acidic in pH. Watering should only be done with rainwater, which can be a challenge in dry areas. Where rainwater is insufficient, they should be watered with steam-distilled water. The center cup, which in nature often contains water, should be kept at least moist at all times. To reduce disease, the cup should be flushed with clean water regularly.

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