Friday, December 31, 2010

Vriesea Splendens

If I was limited to growing only one family of plants, it would undoubtedly be the Bromeliaceae (Bromeliad) clan. This would not be an easy decision to make, especially when my beloved Dracaenas, Aglaonemas, Marantas and Philodendrons would have to be sacrificed. But how could I possibly resist Bromeliads, such amazingly, incredibly, unbelievably, totally cool plants?


Not only are they cool-looking, but there are so many attractive ones, each unique in its own way. And they come in enough different sizes and colours to satisfy every houseplant enthusiast’s palette. Each family member offers interesting foliage, a distinct style and striking flowers. The leaves on these plants may be green, gray, maroon, striped, variegated, spotted, marbled, leathery, wiry, broad, grass-like, miniature (Tillandsias) and even several feet long. In fact, there is such a drastic difference in appearance between so many Bromeliad members that you can decorate an entire home solely with these plants and it’ll appear as though you are surrounded by a multitude of different plant families. Definitely cool plants.


Not only are Bromeliads awesome-looking, they’re also a wonderful choice for indoor greenery. They adapt effortlessly to a variety of growing conditions, handle neglect better than most other plants and are quite easy to grow, making them particularly attractive to beginners and negligent plant growers.


Unfortunately, Bromeliads are not available regularly in my neck of the woods (maybe not even in yours). And on the rare occasion when they are offered at the local garden centers, they’re usually the less glamorous varieties and alarmingly pricey. But once in awhile, lady luck (who has a green thumb, by the way) comes to town and brings with her a striking Bromeliad at a reasonable price. And of course, I end up buying the plant because it’s been on my wish list for a long time. And because I’m too weak to resist this type of temptation.


Such was the case with the spectacular Vriesea splendens, a Bromeliad admired for its outstanding foliage and its spectacular flower display. Green-thumbed lady luck smiled upon me a couple of years ago and delivered this incredible Bromeliad to a greenhouse nearby that placed a reasonable price tag on it (okay, as reasonable as a Bromeliad prices can be). I’ll admit that the amount I paid was a little more than what I’m usually willing to dish out for plants, indoors or out, but since this dazzler is rarely available for sale, I bit the bullet and took one home.


A long time has passed since I scurried home with my newly-purchased Vriesea splendens and I have to say this: It was worth every penny I paid for it. It is one of the most undemanding plants I’ve ever grown, and it looks as beautiful as the day I brought it home.


With all that being said, I’d like to share whatever experience I’ve had with this plant, in terms of its care requirements.

Vriesea Splendens – Flaming Sword

Just like most other Bromeliads (aside from the cute little Tillandsias), Vriesea splendens, commonly-referred to as ‘flaming sword’, is sold in a pot even though as an epiphyte it requires no soil. In its native home of eastern Venezula, French Guiana and Guyana, this plant grows on rocks, or on tree trunks and branches. But since most of us don’t have rocks and trees in our homes, it makes sense to sell these lovely plants in pots of soil, which is obviously much more practical. And if you choose to grow this lovely plant that way, no problem. All Bromeliads do fine as potted plants, including this one.

Here is what you need to know:

Bromeliads do not have extensive root systems compared to other indoor plants you may own. And the roots of an epiphytic Bromeliad such as Vriesea splendens – a plant that absorbs nutrients and moisture from the air through its leaves and tank – function primarily as an anchor system. As a result, proper drainage is not only recommended, it’s absolutely essential. Pot up your ‘flaming sword’ in a very porous medium that allows for sufficient air circulation and prevents water logging. Pick up a prepackaged mix for bromeliads or prepare your own. Mediums used for orchids or succulents are also fine choices.

Stylish and low-maintenance, Vriesea splendens can tolerate a wide range of light levels but does best in brightly-lit spots. Direct sun is not necessary, but some early morning or late afternoon sunlight is handled very well and seems to be appreciated. Avoid midday, summer sun and dark areas; low light can be endured for an impressively long time, but should not be the plant’s permanent location.

Average room temperatures between 15°C (60°F) to 24°C (75°F) are satisfactory but if you have a young plant that has not flowered yet, it may require temperatures of 24°C (75°F) and above to bloom. The standard advice for this Bromeliad and many of its cousins is that humidity levels of 40 to 60 percent are the preference. And while I certainly encourage you to provide above average humidity if you can, it’s not crucial. Vriesea splendens, at least from my experience, does not seem to be bothered by lower levels. I have not noticed any signs of discontentment (brown leaf tips or leaf margins, curled leaves), even during the winter when humidity levels plummet.

When it comes to watering, there are two sacred words that you must commit to memory: NEVER OVERWATER. Improper watering practices are usually the cause of most problems associated with this lovely plant. Prone to root rot, keeping a Vriesea splendens too wet for too long and too often will damage and eventually kill it. Water the compost only when it dries out considerably and then water thoroughly until it runs out of the bottom. Never allow the pot to sit on a saucer full of water; dump the excess right away. You can also water this Bromeliad exclusively through its funnel of leaves and eliminate the soil entirely by growing it attached to driftwood or in hydroculture. Keep the tank (cup) filled with water, flush it every 1 – 2 months and refill with fresh water.

If your plant is growing in ideal conditions, feed it about once or twice a month with a general liquid fertilizer that is diluted to half strength or less. Do not fertilize during the winter months or if your plant is growing in poor lighting. You can add the fertilizer inside the funnel of leaves, apply it through the medium or fill a spray bottle with a very weak solution and mist the leaves lightly.

If you’ve done some research on this plant, you probably have discovered a couple of things: 1) That you can’t get the story straight about the care requirements of this plant; the information is ambiguous at best, lacking at worst and 2) Many of the resources available paint the Vriesea splendens as quite challenging, much more difficult than the other Bromeliads commonly sold as indoor plants.

Obviously, I can’t do anything about the lack of information, aside from contributing some on my own blog that may help my readers better care for their plant. But I can do something about the second point, which discourages growers from attempting to grow a Vriesea splendens, by telling you that this is not a difficult plant - at all. Just go ahead and pick one up. You’ll be glad you did.


  1. My experience has been exactly the same, except 1) I have occasionally seen leaf-curling, usually when I wait too long to water, and 2) if I were limited to a single plant family I would probably not choose the bromeliads, having now had some disappointing Neoregelia experiences. Otherwise, yes, everything you said.

  2. This is one of the easier bromeliads - at least for me. I've run across websites where people complain about them, but I've never had a problem. And you know, I always say I'd choose the bromeliads if that's all I could have, but that's because I can have anything I want now. The truth is, I could not imagine my houseplant world without aroids. No more aglaonemas? That's scary....

  3. I've been growing the same Vriesea Splendens Bromeliad plant for 25 years. I too have noticed all the vague and incorrect information about taking care of this plant and what is described here is close to what I have learned. Originally I had two plants but at one time I was gone for a while and one of them died probably from lack of water. My plant is now about 45 inches across and produces a huge flower stalk almost exactly every two years. It is true that you need to put the plant in a light well drained medium and not allow it to become too wet. I use mostly Miracle Gro sphagnum moss with a little light potting soil and this plant likes that mixture. I only water it using a spray of water with plant food added every day. I use African violet plant food and this plant seems to like it. Most of the spraying is on the leaves since that is how the plant absorbs water and nutrients. The plant does not want any water in the center when there is a flower stalk - that's a serious mistake and the flower will suffer if the stalk gets wet. I don't understand all the talk about the plant not surviving after producing a flower. If you cut the stalk off quickly as soon as the tiny yellow side flowers begin to fade the plant keeps right on growing and getting larger. I replant it every couple years and even though this plant is very large there are almost no roots - there is some thin strands only an inch or two long. If I were to use only sphagnum moss in the container it would not be stable enough to hold up this large plant. The bit of potting soil helps to anchor the plant and hold it upright. It is really a very easy to care for plant and very impressive when it blooms with a bright red flower stalk at least two feet high and lasting for months.

    1. The same plant for 25 years! That is amazing. You obviously know what you are doing. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

    2. I’ve been in Venezuela and up the Orinoco where these Vriesea Splendens grow in the dense forest and I do try to simulate the conditions as close as possible to what is in that jungle. Unfortunately it’s not really possible to make trips to Venezuela anymore. They hated Americans there 25 years ago and it was dangerous in Caracas. We posed as being from France and everybody seems to like the French so that helped to keep us safe. It’s a trick I used when traveling. The police (who are really army militia) carried machine guns on the streets of Caracas even back then when things were relatively quiet. I was close to one street fight the police had with drug dealers – lots of shooting. The police won the fight of course. It was safer in the jungle.
      One thing I forgot to mention is that these plants do not like contaminated city water with fluoride, chlorine, and other chemicals. My household water is extremely pure from my own well and has no pollutants. I live in a secluded northern rainforest in Northern Wisconsin and there was no real farming here so the water is very pure. I would recommend using clean bottled water unless you have really clean pure tap water available for this plant. The plants often grow up in the large trees in Venezuela and the Vriesea Splendens plant leaves up in those trees are often damp from the high humidity. So spraying them every day with very pure water helps simulate the conditions and is a very healthy thing for this plant – it is what this plant wants and needs to stay really healthy. I grow orchids too and they are much more difficult than bromeliads.
      Tom from Wisconsin

    3. You are absolutely, right. These plants (and all its cousins) certainly do not like water with chemicals in it. Eventually you will notice signs of disapproval! One of my friends has been to Venezuela. This was a very long time ago. Very beautiful country. There was a warm reception toward Canadians at the time. I don't know what it's like now. No one I know has visited since then.