There are over 2,700 species of bromeliads in the world! Interestingly, pineapples and Spanish moss are also in this family. Bromeliads come in a startling diversity of shapes, sizes, structure, markings and colours. They live in many different environments and can be terrestrial – which means they grow in and receive nutrients from soil; lithophytic – which means they grow on rock and obtain nutrients from moss and rain water; or epiphytic – which means they are attached to another living plant and get nutrients from the air, rain/humidity and leaf litter. Epiphytic plants have major advantages in the rainforest. They have access to more direct sunlight, they have a greater variety of pollinators up in the canopy, and the wind can disperse their seeds more readily. Flowers are often small but very colorful.
Did you know that as bromeliads grow, the leaves of many species form circular water tight “tanks”? In fact some bromeliads found in the Amazon can hold up to 45 litres water! Tanks act as a water storage system for the plant during dry periods and they also create important micro-environments for other creatures. One biologist in Costa Rica tallied over 250 different organisms that lived in just one bromeliad tank! He found organisms like protozoa, bacteria, larvae, algae, insects, and even land crabs and frogs!
Speaking of frogs, another interesting fact about these plants is that they are key in the the lives of poison dart frogs. In the rainforests, poison dart frogs, also known as poison-arrow frogs, use the tanks of bromeliads as nurseries for their young! These young frogs are raised in a very different way than most other frogs. Both parents play roles to ensure their offspring survive to adulthood. First, the mother frog lays eggs under leaves on the forest floor. After they hatch, Dad stays on guard protecting the young until they grow into tadpoles. At this point, the tadpoles wiggle onto their mother’s back. She then carries each of her offspring piggy-back style to the tanks of water-filled bromeliads, a journey that may take several days if she climbs high into the rainforest canopy. The tadpoles feed on algae and mosquito larvae once safe within the tanks of the bromeliads. To ensure their survival, the mother frog returns with unfertilized eggs that she drops into each tank for the tadpoles to eat. Within six to eight weeks these tadpoles mature into adult frogs, leave their bromeliad home and set out to live back down on the forest floor.
The Bloedel Conservatory maintains a variety of gorgeous bromeliads all year around. Stop by for a visit and see how many different types you can find!