Friday, June 3, 2011

Neoregelia Carolinae Tricolor

There are a few indoor gardeners that sympathize so much with the neglected, dilapidated and near-death plants at greenhouses, garden centers, supermarkets and wherever else, that they often purchase and take them home, with the well-meaning intention of restoring their health and providing them with a warm and caring environment where they can flourish and live happily ever after. In simpler terms, they feel compelled to save them.

It might sound awful but I don’t feel the same way as those more caring souls do. Whenever I encounter plants on clearance racks that look like their days (if not hours) are numbered, I do sympathize with them and I might even remark on their sorry state, but I never feel obligated to save any of them. I don’t know whether my lack of interest in adopting dilapidated plants makes me a compassionless person or not, but that’s just the way it is. I do have my reasons, though, for not doing plant rescues, and these are the top three:

1. The plant is weak and may not survive in the long run despite added effort.

2. An unhealthy plant is more likely to be plagued by pests or disease.

3. I do not have enough free time to play nurse to a new addition that may or may not make it.

So I don’t do plant rescues. Not really. This doesn’t mean that I’ve never taken home a plant on its last legs, a plant that’s noticeably neglected or a plant that’s been at the supermarket for such a long time that you wonder how in the world it’s still hanging on. I have. But it’s not out of sympathy; it’s out of self-interest. I only pick up destitute plants that are rarely ever available for sale, or plants that are on my wish list, so my plant rescues are purely for selfish reasons. Yes folks, those are the only times I ever rescue a plant – to fulfill my own needs not theirs. There I said it, and I don’t feel guilty. Well, not really. Okay, maybe just a bit.

Anyhow, one plant that I (pseudo) rescued at one time is a Bromeliad that I’d kept bumping into at Wal-Mart week after week. The first time I caught sight of it, it took every ounce of restraint not to take it home. It was stunning, and a specimen I’d never seen before for sale locally, and it was fresh out of the ‘shipment’ box, which (kind of) promised a reasonably healthy plant. But I (reluctantly) left it behind because it was a little pricey. I told myself that such a gorgeous plant would be gone in no time, either way, and I’d get over it. But it never left. It was there the next week, and the week after that. And two weeks after that. A whole month had come and gone and this absolutely stunning Bromeliad was (remarkably) still there. A whole slew of other plants came and went, and it was still there. Moreover, it still looked good despite its waterlogged soil and lack of light.

I couldn’t resist this gorgeous Bromeliad (from one of my favourite plant families) anymore. And besides, this specimen was definitely a survivor and worthy of a few extra bucks. So I (less grudgingly) spent a little more than I allow myself to spend for plants and took it home. Therefore I did, to some extent, rescue a plant from an uncertain (but most probably dismal) future. I won’t deny that I did it for selfish reasons (my own) rather than selfless ones (for the plant’s sake). I did. But, oh well.

The plant in question is the Neoregelia carolinae ‘Tricolor’, commonly-referred to as the ‘blushing Bromeliad’. And below is some basic care information.

Caring For The Blushing Bromeliad

Native to the tropical forests of South America, the blushing Bromeliad is a member of the Neoregelia group, a genus belonging to the Bromeliaceae family of plants. Like many of its relatives, the blushing Bromeliad is an epiphyte (an organism that grows on another plant for physical support but is not parasitic to its host) and does not require soil. Epiphytes manufacture their own food the same way that other green plants do (photosynthesis), but they derive moisture and nutrients from the air rather than from the soil.

Neoregelia carolinae is among the hardiest tank type Bromeliads available commercially (this applies to the entire Neoregelia genus). With its ease of cultivation and its accommodating nature, it is able to endure extended periods of neglect: insufficient light, watering blunders, low humidity. It’s no wonder the one I picked up lasted so long at Wal-Mart, and retained its health despite poor growing conditions. Although this lovely plant can survive for long periods in a less than ideal environment, it’s a shame to neglect it. With proper care that involves very little effort, the Neoregelia carolinae ‘Tricolor’ is one of the most ornamental Bromeliads.

Despite being an epiphyte, the blushing Bromeliad is sold in a container, which makes ‘practical’ sense. Growing this exotic specimen indoors as a potted plant is a lot more convenient this way - and easily achievable. Bromeliads as a whole do not have an extensive root system and the roots they do have are meant to function primarily as an anchor system, therefore proper drainage is essential to help prevent over-watering, which will inevitably lead to rot. Use a fast-draining, highly-porous medium that will encourage sufficient air circulation and prevent a waterlogged growing environment. Pick up a prepackaged mix for Bromeliads or prepare your own. Mediums used for Orchids or Succulents are also fine choices.

As a tank-style Neoregelia carolinae ‘Tricolor’ can be watered exclusively through the funnel of leaves. You don’t need to concern yourself with the potting medium if you keep the central rosette (cup) filled with fresh water. Flush the tank periodically (every 1 – 2 months) to remove salt buildup and prevent stagnation, and refill it with fresh water. Even though this Bromeliad is equipped with a central rosette, it does not mean that you can’t water through the soil (a style you might be more comfortable with), you can. Allow the potting medium to dry out considerably and then water thoroughly until it runs out of the bottom. Dump the excess water; never allow the pot to sit on a saucer full of water for extended periods.

Bromeliads can tolerate and survive periods of drought, therefore it’s preferable to underwater these plants than to drown them with excess moisture. This plant family is prone to root rot easily if the planting medium is kept too wet too often, so be careful with that watering can.

Give your Neoregelia carolinae ‘Tricolor’ as much light as possible; choose a southern, western or eastern location that offers bright, indirect light. Although the plant should be protected against the strong rays of midday sun, some early morning or late afternoon sunshine is very beneficial - and very much appreciated. Low light areas are tolerated for awhile, but the plant should be grown in brighter light to be at its best.

Average household room temperatures between 15°C (60°F) to 24°C (75°F) are satisfactory. Increase humidity by placing the plant on a pebble tray or by adding a humidifier nearby. If your plant is actively growing, feed it about once a month with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer that is diluted to half strength or less. Do not fertilize during the winter months or if the plant is grown in low light. If you are watering exclusively through the tank, fill a spray bottle with a very weak fertilizer solution and mist the leaves lightly.

I have to admit that I was quite surprised that a plant as lovely as the Neoregelia carolinae ‘Tricolor’ had not been snatched up as quickly as I would have expected. I would guess that the hefty price tag played a major role in its rejection. Since a wide selection of eye-catching plants at large retailers such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot are available at a more attractive price ($2.00 - $10.00), a Bromeliad tagged close to $20.00 loses its appeal quickly, despite its beauty. Lucky for this Neoregelia that I am weak when it comes to leaving Bromeliads behind. Let’s face it, it was only a matter of time before I caved in and brought it home.


  1. Hi Martha, This sounds like a very low maintenance plant. I recall having a plant that I watered from the top, but this was over 15 or more years now. It was kind of tropical, quite large, had very thick leaves and flowered.

  2. Our humidity is so low in Calgary (due to our elevation), that anything more than a cactus is not likely to thrive. Beautiful plant though, and quite vivid.

    Oh, and I identified that mystery statue on Jane's site - a fact which absurdly pleases me to no end. :)

  3. Jane, this really is an easy least I think so. I'm a huge fan of bromeliads, and this is one of my favourites.


    Tatiana, that's too bad about the humidity because it makes it hard to grow plants that need more moisture to thrive.

    I'm off to Jane's site to see about the 'mystery statue'...

  4. Ok well I have one of these bromeliads and its not doing too well. The leaves around the central rosette or cup are shriveling and the cup has gotten to be what i think is too deep becuase of this. I water the cup water a little bit every day, because the water always looks so low when i wake up. It gets low indirect sunlight half the day, and i let it sit outside in direct sun for about 1 1/2 hrs every day around 10-11 am. (we live in ATL, so its in the 90's every day and very humid. I mist it every other day with plain water when it is inside. Any suggestions as to caring for it?

    1. I've never grown this plant outside, but I would think that placing it outdoors in direct sun with that type of heat wouldn't be good for it. Perhaps it's best to keep it indoors.

    2. Thank you for responding so quickly! You were right, the leaves did get burnt. Now it's in indirect sun indoors and I'm watering it weekly, misting lightly with water every day. It is in original potting soil with damp pebbles on top. The leaves are un shriveling and it is coming back to life(:

    3. Glad to hear that. It looks like your plant is on its way to recovery!