Bromeliad or Pineapple Family

Trevor Christensen and Derek Butcher

Perennial herbs, sometimes shrubby, often growing on rocks or other plants. Leaves mostly in basal rosettes, stiff, often with expanded bases overlapping to form a central, water-holding tank, spiny to toothed or entire, usually alternate but distichous in some Tillandsia species. Flower clusters terminal, in simple or compound spikes, racemes or heads, often with brightly coloured, prominent bracts. Flowers are borne in the axils of the bracts and are usually bisexual. Calyx and corolla each have 3 segments, the corolla petal-like and showier than the calyx. Stamens 6 in 2 whorls. Ovary superior or inferior, of 3 chambers with a 3- parted stigma on a slender style. Fruit a berry or capsule or, as in the case of the pineapple, a fleshy multiple fruit with the individual fruits fused together.

A large distinctive family of terrestrial, dry-adapted, thick-stemmed epiphytic herbs, usually more or less succulent. Tank-forming bromeliads have few true roots. The overlapping leaf bases act as reservoirs for water and organic materials with absorption from the tank being by adventitious roots or more commonly by the specialised and scale-like leaf hairs (trichomes) that are found over most of the plant. Non-tank-forming species either have true roots and few trichomes e.g. Pitcairnia, Puya, or are almost entirely epiphytic, the roots used only for anchorage and the specialised hairs absorbing moisture from the atmosphere e.g. Tillandsia.

Since 1974 some new genera have been added i.e. Brewcaria, Lindmania, Steyerbromelia to describe plants from the ‘Lost World’ area of Venezuela. All are very rare in cultivation. There has been discussion since 1988 as to whether Pitcairnia should be split into two genera, Pitcairnia and Pepinia. Species of Pepinia are rarely encountered in cultivation in Australia.

Grown for their attractive, often coloured or striped foliage as well as the showy-bracted inflorescences. They are widely cultivated in the open, under shade cloth or under glass. The family is divided into 3 subfamilies: Pitcairnioideae,Tillandsioideae and Bromelioideae.

  • Pitcairnioideae - ovary inferior or superior; fruit a capsule containing winged seeds; leaves usually spinose-serrate; mostly terrestrial xerophytes e.g. Pitcairnia, Puya, Dyckia.
  • Tillandsioideae - ovary superior, fruit a capsule, seeds having feathery appendages; leaves entire; exclusively epiphytic and lithophytic e.g. Tillandsia, Vriesea, Guzmania.
  • Bromelioideae - ovary inferior, fruit a berry with seeds having no wings or appendages and the leaves spinose-serrate; both terrestrial and epiphytic.

In the 1970s Lyman Smith (an eminent bromeliad taxonomist) used the presence or absence of appendages at the base of petals to separate some genera. Studies in the 1990s have downgraded the importance of this character and have allowed species to be grouped more 'naturally'. Many changes in classification can be expected in the future.

In Australia, bromeliads are disseminated mainly by Societies rather than the general nursery trade.The first bromeliad society in Australia was formed in 1963. The various State Societies in south-eastern Australia are as follows: Bromeliad Society of Australia,, PO Box 340, Ryde, NSW 2112, ; Bromeliad Society of Victoria, PO Box 101, Darling VIC 3145,; Bromeliad Society of South Australia, Secretary; Illawarra Bromeliad Society, PO Box 439, Dapto, NSW 2530; Bromeliad Society of New South Wales, There are a few specialist nurseries in nothern New South Wales and Queensland. Garden World Nursery of Keysborough, Victoria, retails a good range of plants and also imports the more common Tillandsia from Guatemala for resale.

About 54 genera and 3000 species from tropical and subtropical Americas and West Indies. One species of Pitcairnia occurs in coastal West Africa. The family generally is adapted to conditions of water stress either as dry land terrestrials, or epiphytes in wetter or boggy conditions.

Pineapple, Ananas comosus, is cultivated in the tropics and subtropics. Fibre is extracted from species of Aechmea and Tillandsia and used for upholstery, cordage and fabric.

Pineapple-like plants with stiff, often strap-like leaves in rosettes and usually with a grey, scale-like covering; flower spikes often with large, brightly coloured floral bracts. Most rely on hummingbirds for pollination and thus red predominates at flowering either in the leaves or parts of the inflorescence; flowers are generally quite small.

Technical: Smith & Downs (1974, 1977, 1979). Popular: Padilla (1973, 1981), Rauh (1979), Baensch & Baensch (1994), Benzing (1980), Williams (1990), Leme & Brissett (1993), Butcher (1994, 1997), Leme & Dunn de Araujo (1997). Cultivars: Bromeliad Society International (1998), 'Bromeliad Cultivar Registry' see also

Many hybrids are known throughout the world, with well over 1000 originating in Australia alone. A full listing of Australian hybrids is available in Butcher (1997). A world listing is available from the Bromeliad Society International (

Bigeneric hybrids: Bigeneric hybrids have only occurred within (not between) each of the subfamilies. This indicates a clear cut evolutionary division between them. The names are a combination of part of the name of each of the parents. These are not easily produced and in all cases are sterile. A few of the more common ones are listed.

×Canmea 'Jaspe' Vase-shaped. Leaves green with slight dark markings. Inflorescence upright exceeding the vase, large bright red spreading bracts, white flowers.

×Cryptbergia 'Mead' Medium plant, narrow upright leaves mottled green and pink. Foliage plants. 'Red Burst' Medium plant, open rosette, deep bronze-red leaves, cluster of small white flowers rising from the centre of the rosette.

×Neolarium 'Something Special' Medium plant. Upright open rosette. Leaves toothed. Upper surface of the leaves green, underneath reddish, mottled both sides. Centre leaves turn red at flowering.

×Neomea 'Popcorn' Medium plant with upright rosette, leaves soft, green above, purplish beneath. Inflorescence a short cone of many mauve flowers.

×Neophytum × lymanii Medium plant, numerous stiff narrow green leaves which turn red at flowering. Inflorescence very short, petals white.

×Neotanthus 'Cardboard' Small open rosette, grey-green rigid leaves, red fingernail tipping. Inflorescence sunk in rosette; petals blue. 'Firefoam' Medium upright rosette, leaves red tipped, green above with irregular yellow cross bands underside, grey-green with grey cross bands. Inflorescence sunk in rosette.

×Nidumea 'Angeline' Large plant, leaves wide, green, with deep yellow variegations. Inflorescence on stocky scape. Cone-shaped variegated bracts.Yellow flowers. 'Beacon' Large open rosette, leaves green, toothed. Inflorescence on short scape, many long tapering red bracts; petals mauve. 'Newk' Small open rosette, leaves soft, spreading, green on top, reddish beneath. Inflorescence on short scape, globose with many white flowers.

×Orthotanthus 'What' Allegedly Orthophytum saxicola x Cryptanthus 'It' but is actually O. saxicola with pale variegations on the leaves.

All keys to be used as a guide only.

  • Pitcairnioideae Key based on Smith & Downs Flora Neotropica 1974, modified by D. Butcher.

  • Tillandsioideae Key based on Smith & Downs Flora Neotropica 1977.  Tillandsia here includes the new genus Racinaea (formerly Tillandsia subgenus Pseudocatopsis). Vriesea here includes the segregate genera Alcantarea and Werauhia.

  • Bromelioideae Key based on Smith & Downs Flora Neotropica 1979

Source: Christensen, T.; Butcher, D. (2005). Bromeliaceae. In: Spencer, R.. Horticultural Flora of South-eastern Australia. Volume 5. Flowering plants. Monocotyledons. The identification of garden and cultivated plants. University of New South Wales Press.

Hero image
kingdom Plantae
phylum   Tracheophyta
class    Magnoliopsida
superorder     Lilianae
order      Poales
Higher taxa
Subordinate taxa
genus        Acanthostachys Klotsch
genus        Aechmea Ruiz & Pav.
genus        Alcantarea (Mez) Harms
genus        Ananas Mill.
genus        Billbergia Thunb.
genus        Brocchinia Schult.f.
genus        Bromelia L.
genus        Canistrum C.J. Morren
genus        Cryptanthus Otto & A. Dietr.
genus        Deuterocohnia Mez.
genus        Dyckia Schult.f.
genus        Edmundoa
genus        Fascicularia Mez
genus        Fosterella L.B.Sm.
genus        Greigia Regel
genus        Guzmania Ruiz & Pav.
genus        Hechtia Klotsch.
genus        Hohenbergia Schult.f.
genus        Neoregelia L.B.Sm.
genus        Nidularium Lem.
genus        Ochagavia Philippi
genus        Orthophytum Beer
genus        Pitcairnia L'Hér.
genus        Portea K.Koch
genus        Puya Molina
genus        Quesnelia Gaudich.
genus        Racinaea M.Spencer & L.B.Sm.
genus        Tillandsia L.
genus        Vriesea Lindl.
genus        Wittrockia Lindm.