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Growing Bromeliads from Seed

By John Atlee

Growing Bromeliads from seed can be a rewarding experience. It is also a good way to acquire many plants that are the same. It is relative simple if the basic precautions are followed. Seeds are available from many sources, including the Bromeliad Society Seed Exchange, or other Bromeliad growers in your local area.

It is generally accepted that the viability of Bromeliad seeds are limited. The seeds from the Family of Tillandsioideae probably has the shortest viability, about 4-6 weeks. The other two Families, Bromelioideae, and Pitcairnioideae will last much longer, 8 weeks to 3 months. The viability is obviously determined and lengthened with proper storage. They should be stored in clean containers or paper, stored at moderately low temperatures, and at low humidity.

I use a very simple technique to germinate my seeds. I use the bottom of a 2 liter soda bottle; the clear ones with the black bottoms. You can remove these black bottoms by adding hot tap water to the container and waiting a few minutes. The glue will soften and the bottom comes off. The bottoms already have the drain holes in them. I then cut off the tops of the bottles, saving the screw top, about 4-5 inches from the top, and these will be used to cover the seed in a mini-greenhouse type of environment. Other people use a simple clear or semi-opaque box, much like you would use to store food in the refrigerator. These have good tight fitting lids and will let the light pass through easily. Unfortunately, they do not have drain holes and are subject to over watering; you can add some drain holes with a hot nail or a drill. Either of these containers can be used with equal success.

Fill the containers, a little over half way full of a sterile, soilless potting mix. Dampen the mix until it is moist but not dripping. Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the mix; they require light for germination. Then thoroughly water the seeds and the mix with water containing a fungicide. Please follow directions carefully on the fungicide container. The fungicide prevents "damping-off" which is a most common reason for failure.

The technique of using finely ground sphagnum moss to prevent "damping-off" also works well. Sprinkle a layer over the potting mix, then add your seeds, and then water (without fungicide). This a chemical-free means to prevent disease.

After your seeds are watered into the surface of your potting mix, place the lid on the container and place it in very bright, but indirect light, where it will stay warm, about 70-80 degrees F. If you get too much direct sunlight you can cook your seedlings, but they do need very bright light. You should be able to see the young plantlets in about 10 days to two weeks. Do not be discouraged if it takes longer. I have waited up to 6 weeks, but that was very unusual.

Don't remove the lid until you see the seedlings emerge. Don't let the potting mix dry out. If you need to add water to the mix, place the whole container in a bowl of water so it will absorb what it needs and drain the excess.

Tillandsia seeds are a little different but still simple. The seeds of the plants that belong to the Family Tillandsioideae have tails and are generally airborne in nature. They require air circulation along with the strong light, warmth, and water to sprout.

A nursery flat, or even a plastic berry basket can be lined with window screen wire. It must not be copper screening, this is poisonous, but it can be plastic screening. The plastic is very inexpensive and easily manipulated. The seeds are spread as thinly and evenly as possible across the screening. They will tend to stick together, tweezers or a stiff paint brush are helpful tools. The seeds can be moistened with a spray bottle or an automatic misting system. They must always be kept moist with good air circulation.

Another simple technique is to place a block of tree fern, or other absorbent material, in a shallow container. The seeds are then distributed on the upper surface and the container partially filled with water. The bottom of the tree fern should always be sitting in water. Refill the container as needed.

Either of these methods are successful. It is also a wise decision to treat the seed with a fungicide to prevent disease from attacking the young plantlets.

After your seedlings are growing strongly you can begin to harden them off, but do it slowly. Try not to stress them by with holding water, but expose them to more air circulation and temperature differences. If the plants you are growing require more light, or less, you can change their location to suit their cultural needs and comforts.

When they are fully adapted to their environment and are showing strong signs of normal healthy growth, you can separate them into their own individual containers, or pots. It will be at least 2-3 years before the plants are fully mature and ready to bloom. It will have been worth all of the attention and care you have given them to be able say, "I grew that plant from seed."

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