Bromeliads make great plants for the paludarium or vivarium. They are easy to grow, being tolerant of humid conditions, and look very attractive when attached to branches and cork. They are very common in rainforests, typically living epiphytically on trees. Moisture gathers in the axials of these plants, and anybody that keeps poison dart frogs will be aware that the tadpoles of many species actually spend the first few weeks of their lives in these minute bodies of water high up in the forest canopy. There are over 3000 species of bromeliads from 57 different genera, and although a few are widely available, the vast majority will rarely or never be offered for sale.
Shop bought bromeliads are generally sold in pots, but this is more about keeping the plant upright rather than keep it watered. When using these plants in a paludarium, they can be pinned or tied into place onto woodwork, or a living wall to create superb specimen plants amongst other smaller leaved foliage. Bromeliads are typically inexpensive to buy and are widely stocked in home and garden stores, with an ever growing supply available online.
Bromeliads are famous for storing rainwater in their overlapping leaf bases – and these can be homes to numerous animals from insects to amphibians. Poison arrow frogs are possibly the best known example; the tadpoles are deposited into these tiny bodies of water, and this is where they remain until they emerge as frogs. A tank regularly misted with rainwater will replicate their natural environment very nicely. But more than this, their thick rubbery leaves create extra surfaces to support the tanks occupants, and nooks and crannys within which to hide.
How to care for Bromeliads
In general these plants are quite tough, though older shop-bought plants do not always adapt to the new conditions of a humid vivarium so well. Try and keep them in a humid environment, but not too wet. A sure sign of too much humidity/insufficient ventilation is the rotting of leaves, which will turn brown and fall of. The roots of these plants must be allowed to dry out periodically. Although there is plenty of moisture in the rainforest canopy, there is also plenty of ventilation. These tend to do better when planted higher up in tall tanks, away from the most humid parts.
Of course, during the wetter seasons, rainwater will regularly fall onto these plants, and fill the axials. A good misting can simulate this, which also helps keeps leaves clean if frogs use the leaves as perches. It is important not to use tap water for this, as disolved salts will harm the plant. Reverse osmosis, distilled, or rainwater is essential. In general when misting a rainforest paludarium, tap water would not be used anyway.
Many tanks have wetter and drier areas, and it may be necessary to move your Bromeliad, or increase ventilation if it does not seem happy where it is. In nature these plants experience dryer periods in winter, and it is far more likely that a plant will be damaged from too much water than too little. If you have an automatic misting system, spray nozzles can be pointed towards or away from the plants as required. In some smaller set-ups, or tanks with a considerable water component, it can be difficult to keep Bromeliads healthy for the long term, and they may benefit from periodic holidays from the tank. This should be borne in mind before a specimen is permanently mounted onto tank structures.