Gardeners in frost-free areas know this genus to be epiphytes, plants that grow on the trunks and branches of trees. All have rigid, strap-shaped leaves (often with spiny margins) that form a funnel of foliage around a central cup that will hold water after a rain. In summer, a plumelike flower arises from the center and is showy for several months.
A. chantinii. AMAZONIAN ZEBRA PLANT. Upright or urnlike rosettes of 1- to 3-ft.-long leaves in green to gray-green or olive-green are banded with silver or darker green. Tall flower clusters have orange, pink, or red bracts, yellow-and-red flowers. Fruit is white or blue.
A. fasciata. SILVER VASE PLANT. Funnel-shaped rosette of handsome gray-green leaves cross-banded with silvery white. From the center grows a cluster of rosy pink flower bracts enclosing pale blue flowers that change to deep rose. The selection 'Silver King' has unusually silvery leaves; 'Marginata' has leaves edged with creamy white bands.
A. fulgens. CORALBERRY. Green leaves dusted with gray, 1216 in. long, 23 in. wide. Flower cluster usually above the leaves; red, blue, or blue-violet blossoms. A. f. discolor has brownish red or violet-red leaves, usually faintly striped.
A. hybrids. Dozens of hybrids have been developed from the various species. Among the most readily available are those in the Foster's Favorite group; they have bright, wine-red, lacquered, 1-ft.-long leaves and drooping, spikelike flower clusters in coral-red and blue. Another favorite is 'Royal Wine', which forms an open rosette of somewhat leathery, glossy, light green leaves with burgundy-red undersides; it has drooping clusters of orange-and-blue flowers.
A. pectinata. Stiff rosettes up to 3 ft. wide; leaves to 3 in. wide, strongly marked pink or red at bloom time. Flowers are whitish and green.
A. weilbachii. Shiny leaves to 2 ft. long, green or suffused with red tones, in rosettes 23 ft. wide. Dull red, 112-ft. flower stalk has orange-red berries tipped with lilac.
These bromeliads can be grown outdoors in light shade in pots or hanging baskets. Just be ready to bring them indoors before a frost. Indoors or out, they require a gritty, fast-draining soil such as orchid mix. Contrary to popular belief, it's not a good idea to keep the central cup of plants grown indoors filled with water; this often causes rot. Instead, water the soil around the plant. Let the soil surface go dry to the touch between waterings; mist the foliage of indoor plants frequently. Soft leaf tips indicate overwatering; hard tips indicate underwatering.