Native to high elevations in Mexico, Central and South America, and the West Indies. Vrieseas combine spectacular, long-lasting flower spikes with the most handsome foliage of any bromeliad. Rosettes of long, leathery leaves may be banded, mottled, or plain. Spear-shaped flower spikes rising from the plant's center may hold their color for months. There are dozens of vrieseas from which to choose, offering a wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes. Hybridization has produced many plants of complex parentage.
V. carinata. LOBSTER CLAW. Pale green foliage in a small rosettejust 8 in. high and wide. Colorful inflorescence with red bracts and green-tipped yellow flowers increases plant height to 1 ft.
V. fosteriana. Rosette to 212 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Yellowish to deep green leaves sport crosswise bands of purple or maroon. Yellow inflorescence increases height to 5 ft. 'Red Chestnut' has light green to whitish leaves with red and maroon bands; 'Vista' produces white foliage with reddish brown markings.
V. gigantea 'Nova'. Rosette to 212 ft. high, 34 ft. wide. Bluish green leaves have light green markings that fade to near-white as the plant ages. Spike to 112 ft. tall holds yellow-and-white flowers in green bracts.
V. hieroglyphica. Rosette to 3 ft. tall and wide. Leaves are yellowish green with pronounced cross-banding; bands are dark green on upper surface of leaf, dark purplish brown on underside. Greenish flower spike to 212 ft. tall holds yellow flowers in greenish yellow bracts.
V. imperialis. GIANT VRIESEA. Light green leaves with reddish purple undersides form a rosette to 5 ft. high and wide. Inflorescence features red bracts and yellow or white flowers; it increases plant height dramaticallyto 1015 ft.
V. splendens. FLAMING SWORD. Rosettes to 3 ft. tall, 1 ft. wide. Bluish green leaves sport blackish purple cross-banding. Flower stalk resembles a 112- to 2-ft.-long feather of bright red bracts from which small yellow flowers emerge.
Vrieseas are epiphytes, naturally growing in the crotches of trees. In the Tropical South (USDA 10-11), you can grow them that way, toojust wrap the plant's base in coarse sphagnum moss and secure it to a tree branch. Mist the moss daily. Elsewhere, grow these bromeliads as potted plants you take in for the winter. Plant in loose, fast-draining potting mix; let the mix go slightly dry between waterings, and mist plants frequently. You can fill the central cup with water occasionally during the warmer months, but do not keep it continuously filled or the plant may rot. Feed with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength once a month in spring and summer; don't feed in fall and winter. Indoors or out, place vrieseas where they'll get good light but not hot, direct sun.