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Home & Garden: New plant for Christmas is exotic looking, bright colored

The exotic looking Bromeliad plant comes in many different colors.

I have a new favorite Christmas plant. It is a Bromeliad, which is a member of the plant family Bromeliaceae. Probably the most well known member of this family is the pineapple.

This tropical plant has a flower stalk in the center of a rosette of leathery foliage. It is exotic looking and comes in many brilliant colors. Of course, red is beautiful for the Christmas season.

Bromeliads like bright, filtered indirect sunlight so an east or west window exposure is the best. There should be enough illumination that if you place your hand between the light source and the plant it should cast a shadow. The broad leaves could burn if they are in direct sunlight.

They have a low to moderate water requirement. Keep the soil evenly moist, but do not over water or let them stand in water. The leaves begin to fall off if there is too much moisture. The leaves form a natural cup and this is where you should put the water.

Don't worry about the temperature in your home as Bromeliads like a wide range, between 55-85 degrees. Cool nights will enhance the color and prolong the bloom period, which can last two to three months.

Since Bromeliads bloom only once in their lifetime, there is no need to fertilize or to repot them. After the flower stalk begins to look ugly, cut it off as close to the base as possible. The plant may form a 'pup' or offshoot and after this grows to ½ to ¾ the size of the parent plant, you may remove the plant from the pot and cut off the 'pup' with an alcohol-sterilized knife. Treat the end with rooting compound and plant it in a cacti medium. Apparently, they easily form roots, but it will take two years to get to blooming size.

Greenhouses force Bromeliads to bloom with ethylene gas, the gas that is given off by ripe fruit. Place the plant you started from a 'pup' in a brown paper bag with an apple for a few days. After you take it out it should bloom in 1 ½ months.

At this time, I have a Bromeliad, three Poinsettias, a Thanksgiving cactus, and an Abutilon (flowering maple) blooming in my house. They help keep my mind off the ice and snow outside.