Bromeliads, with their vast number of species (nearly 2,000), offer almost limitless selection. They include giants several metres (yards) high (Puya gigas hasup to 10 m [33 ft] high), as well as dwarfs measuring only a few centimetres (inches): flowers for a damp, shaded spot as well as for bright sunlight; species that are soberly coloured, a uniform green or grey, as well as those which come in brilliant hues – in short, one has a vast choice from which to find something suitable for the conditions of one’s own home. One plant, however, that .should be in every household is a member of the genus Cryptanthus. These mostly stemless plants with attractive rosettes of leaves can be used to make lovely dish arrangements because they can be combined excellently with countless other plants (to provide a harmonious colour supplement or a foil for their shape). Besides, most will survive even gross mistakes in care without marked damage and are thus good plants for those who are amateurs at growing tropical plants.
Unlike most bromeliads, cryptanthuses are geophytes, in other words they grow in the ground. In the wild, in eastern Brazil, they inhabit the undergrowth of rather dry forests. That is why in the home they should be grown in a light, slightly acidmixture, best of all a blend such as used for orchids. If a ball of the compost is attached to the, they may also be grown in epiphytic arrangements, but not permanently; they will remain in good condition for one year at the most when grown this way.
Most type species have no special heat requirements and will be satisfied with a temperature of about 18°C (65°F) in winter; the optimum for variegated cultivars, such as Cryptanthus lacerdae, C. zonatus and C. x fosterianus, is about 5°C (9°F) higher. Light requirements also differ. Most species need shade or partial shade, but C. bromelioides ‘Tricolor’ and C. acaulis and its cultivars require full sun. C. acaulis, for example, should be put in a frame exposed to direct sun in summer. During the growth period the plants should be watered and fed fairly often. The ideal fertilizer is dry cow manure added to the potting compost. If this is not available, use liquid fertilizer. Propagation is very easy by means of the sideshoots produced in large numbers from the base of mature plants.