Neoregelias belong to the subfamily Bromelioideae. The genus was named for Edward von Regel, a botanist who was the superintendent of the botanical garden in Saint Petersburg Russia. When the plants were originally brought to Europe in the early to mid 19th century, they were classified with the genera names Karatus, Regelia or Aregelia. Lyman B. Smith reclassified them as Neoregelia in 1890. The plants are compact, low growing, with leaves arranged in a circular pattern. Many of the plants have a set of leaves that form a water holding cup in the center of the plant. The cup collects water and decaying debris that satisfy the plant’s nutritional needs when the leaves absorb dissolved nutrients.

Over 100 species currently comprise the genus Neoregelia. Most of them grow wild in Brazil, Colombia and Peru. They can be found from sea level to 5000 feet, usually growing on trees and shrubs where they receive some shade. The plants range in size from approximately 2 inches tall and 3/4 of an inch wide (ampullacea) to 12 inches tall and 36 or 48 inches wide (carcharodon).

The white or blue flowers are usually small and contained in the cup. Only a few are open at any given time, but there are many of them, and they open over an extensive period of time. Neoregelias are not usually grown for their flowers. It’s their leaves! They can be green, silver, maroon, or red. They can be banded, spotted, striped or marbled. When a plant comes into bloom, it usually assumes a flatter shape and the colors intensify.

They like bright (2500 foot-candles) to almost full sunlight. In the Houston area, 55 to 70 percent shade cloth works well. Almost all of them grow better in very bright light. They stay more compact and develop more intense color. Tough leather leafed plants will take the most sun, but watch all of them carefully and move to a lower light location if the leaves start to bleach out.
They prefer temperatures in the range of 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Most can tolerate temperatures in the 20s for short periods of time, although there may be some damage to the foliage. High temperatures don’t usually harm the plant, but they do lose some of their bright color. The color will return when the nights begin to get cooler.
A little slow release fertilizer added to the potting mix when potting pups will get them off to a good start. Well established plants growing in good light can be fertilized monthly with a highly diluted general purpose fertilizer during warm weather, but for the most part use very little if any fertilizer if you want to keep good leaf color. Over fertilization can lead to oversized, lanky, green, plants that are more susceptible to insect and disease damage.
Water the mix when it is dry to the touch. Keep fresh water in the cup at all times. Most of Houston has hard water, and it can leave salt deposits in the plant’s cup and on the leaf edges when it evaporates. The deposits are unsightly and can possibly burn the plant. Stagnant water in the cup is also an excellent breading ground for mosquitoes. Empty the cup or flush it out with large quantities of water on a weekly basis to avoid disease and insect problems.
The mix should be light and well drained. A mixture of ½ peat based soil less mix and ½ bark nuggets gives an acceptable mix. A mix of vermiculite, sponge rock (large perlite) and Canadian peat in equal parts also works well. Remember that there are almost as many mixes as there are growers. Each grower has his/her favorite mix. Do a little experimenting and see what works for you.
Small plants are happy in 4 inch pots. The larger varieties are best potted in 5 or 6 inch pots. Azalea pots are a good choice because they are less prone to tip over in the wind. Almost any of the plants can be grown mounted on wood or cork bark, but the more upright plants with stolons are the best candidates for mounting. If you are mounting a plant, start with a pup not a mature plant. Neoregelias form two different root systems. Plants potted in a mix will form a root system that is adapted to taking up water and nutrients from the soil. Plants mounted on wood or bark will put out a set of tough strong roots adapted to holding the plant secure, but they will not be able to absorb water and nutrients.
After blooming the mature plant goes into a slow decline, but small plants called pups will develop at the base of plant. When a pup is about 1/3 to ½ the size of the mature plant it can be removed and mounted, or it can be potted in its own pot. Pups root quickly in the spring, and will usually bloom in 1-3 years. If the pups are not removed, you can remove the original plant when it dies, and allow the pups to grow as a clump. For those who like adventure, they can be grown from seed, but this is a slow process that can take many years.
Properly spaced plants growing in a well ventilated area are seldom bothered by disease or insects. Occasionally plants will be attacked by a fungal disease, but recovery is rapid when treated early with a fungicide. Insect problems are usually restricted to the occasional grasshopper or slug bite, but if the plants are crowded, and there is little air circulation scale infestation can develop. The two most common types of scale are the brown soft bodied scale and the black tea scale. A treatment or two of insectidal soap will usually bring the brown scale under control. If a plant is infected with black tea scale, it can be destroyed, or you can consult your local garden center for an appropriate insecticide.

Almost all Neoregelia species and hybrids thrive in the Houston area. Some of the more popular species are :

  • Ampullacea
  • carolinae ( tricolor, ‘Copper Penny’, ‘Flandria’, ‘Medallion’, ‘Meyendorffii’, ‘Orange Crush’, ‘Puerto Rico’, ‘Yellow King’)
  • concentrica
  • cruenta
  • carcharodon
  • chlorosticta
  • eleutheropetala
  • johannis
  • kautskyi
  • pauciflora
  • pendula
  • spectabilis
  • tirgrina
  • wilsoniana
  • ‘Fireball’

Aechmea | Billbergia | Cryptanthus | Dyckia | Hechtia | Neoregelia | Tillandsia