Per the request of the site admin, I've placed the article here on Dart Frogz.
Bromeliads in the Dart Frog Terrarium
by Antone Jones
Putting together a terrarium for Dart Frogs is full of fun. It enables one to be creative by assembling their own little slice of rainforest in the confines of their home. Once the perfect size is selected and the hardscape is finished, the real work and fun begins... The plants!! There is always one plant that seems to find its way into the landscape of a Dart Frog terrarium and that’s the bromeliad. In this article, we will take a look at how to select, place and grow these great plants in the Dart Frog terrarium.
Bromeliads are members of the Bromeliaceae family which consists of 57 genera. They are native to the Americas (New World) save for one species which is native to West Africa (Pitcarnia feliciana). For the most part, all bromeliads grow in climates that are warm most of the year but not necessarily tropical. They range from as far north as Texas to as far south as South America. Some are epiphytic (live in trees) and others are terrestrial. There are bromeliads the size of a small car and others that are no bigger than a golf ball (and even smaller)!
If you’re reading this article, you probably already know that Dart Frogs come from the tropics of Central and South America. Lucky for us, there are MANY species that come from the same regions or areas with similar climates that make great terrarium subjects. What’s more, there are myriad cultivars that work quite well also.
The first step to keeping bromeliads in the Dart Frog terrarium is learning how to select a good specimen. You should first decide whether you are looking for a bromeliad to use for decoration or function. Decorative bromeliads are those that hold little to no water and are really just there for aesthetics. Functional bromeliads are those that usually hold water and are large enough to provide breeding spots for various species of Dart Frogs like egg feeders. A good specimen should have clean foliage. This means no spots, lesions or discoloration. The foliage should feel firm and well hydrated. There should be no foul odors emanating from the cups of the tank types. A closer look at the plant should reveal that no colonies of scale insect or fungi are present. Full size of the bromeliad should be considered as well. A bromeliad that has grown too large in a terrarium and is crowding itself will often times have problems with fungi and other diseases. They also may not pup or produce oddly shaped pups. Some bromeliads you obtain may have been grown in pots. These can be removed from the pot, rinsed free of the potting media and the roots can be completely trimmed off.
Disinfecting bromeliads (any plant really) before placing them into the Dart Frog terrarium is a very crucial part to being successful in this hobby. Disinfecting them ensures that no pathogens or other undesirable things enter the terrarium which could spread and harm the other plant life (or even the frog life) in the terrarium. Typically, bromeliads can be soaked in a disinfecting solution. My typical regime consists of soaking bromeliads in soapy bleach water. This consists of a 5 gal bucket filled with two gallons of water, a couple tablespoons of Lemon Fresh Joy and about 12 oz. of plain Chlorox bleach. Soak for 15 minutes or so and then rinse with plenty of fresh water to completely remove the soap residue and bleach. After this, fresh air for a day or so and then into the terrarium they go.
The typical Dart Frog terrarium is a small, warm, moist and moderately lit glass box. This means that when selecting bromeliads, we need to select plants that would best fit these parameters. Of the 57 genera of bromeliads, the most terrarium suitable species and cultivars come from Neoregelia, Vriesea, Guzmania, Aechmea, Tillandsia and Cryptanthus. There are others but these six genera are well represented in cultivation and it makes them relatively easy to obtain. Since the average terrarium is an enclosed humid box, it would often have a very moist substrate. This substrate does work well to grow certain species of plants but for the most part, bromeliads are not in this category. Not even many of the terrestrial species. So because of that, the epiphytic species and cultivars work best in the Dart Frog terrarium.
Epiphytic bromeliads are those that grow attached to other objects. Whether it is a branch, a rock (called a lithophyte) or the background in a terrarium, these bromeliads do not grow in the soil. They attach themselves with roots to their growing surface. These roots are very different from terrestrial species’ roots in that they absorb very little nutrient and are instead used mostly for gripping and attaching. In these species, the foliage does all the work for nutrient absorption.
Attaching a bromeliad to a branch or the background in a Dart Frog terrarium is easy and is the best way to ensure that they prosper. The base of an epiphytic bromeliad often has a fibrous stem known as the stolon. The stolon is sort of the like the umbilical cord that the plant was attached to the parent plant with. When severed from the mother plant, this stolon can be trimmed to a smaller length and is very useful for attachment to various surfaces. Fishing line, sewing string or even glue in some cases, can be used to attach the stolon to a branch. For pliable backgrounds, like peat covered Great Stuff, the stolon can be jammed in and then the bromeliad anchored with crossed toothpicks or a paper clip that has been manipulated to form a “U” shape and secured around the base into the background.
Placement of a bromeliad is important. Most of the commonly used epiphytic types really appreciate good light, so it is important to place them where they will not be shadowed by other plants or objects in the terrarium. Care should be taken not to place them too high in the terrarium as the air at the upper-most parts of the enclosure is usually very dry and hot. This often times leads to burned foliage which not only looks unsightly but can kill the plant in severe cases. If you have to place them high, a strategically placed air circulation fan and a misting system can be used to combat leaf burn. If your terrarium is not very tall and you have little room for mounting, the species and cultivars from the genus, Cryptanthus, can be used. Crypts are terrestrial and actually do quite well in the terrarium. They can even handle the lower light pretty well but do color up nicely when intense light is provided.
Without light, plants can’t photosynthesize and so it is important to have light on a terrarium in order for the plants to thrive. For bromeliads in particular, a good strong light with a color temperature of around 6500 K is probably the best. Light intensity is important when growing various types of Neoregelia b/c these species and cultivars are usually chosen for their colorful foliage. This color can only be maintained with strong lighting. Typically any light hitting the foliage that is around 2200-2800 foot-candles should be adequate to maintain good color. Anything lower, the plant will most likely not die but it may be plain green. Anything more intense could burn if you’re not careful. It’s often thought that the wattage ratings on light bulbs tell us how strong it is. This is NOT true. A wattage rating on a bulb tells us how much power it consumes. A more important rating you would see on a bulb is the Lumens rating. For the purpose of this article, we will say that 1 lumen is 1 foot-candle. So, the higher you can find the better if you can maintain a safe temperature.
A typical Dart Frog terrarium is quite humid. Some stay at a constant 99%. This is okay for many bromeliads but care must be taken that rotting does not occur from over misting and stagnant air. Air flow in a terrarium not only keeps the plants healthy but it can also promote good frog health as well. Small fans or even a small section of screen on the lid would provide some air exchange.
Without water, no plant on this planet could survive. Bromeliads do require water. While some like those from the genus, Tillandsia, require very little water in general, those from the other popular genera require a bit more. Tank types – those which form axils (cups) that hold water – should be kept constantly full of water. The water should be changed every now and then as to prevent stagnant conditions in which mold and fungus can grow. This can be done simply by flooding the plant from the top most leaf cups. Good quality water should also be used. Water heavy in dissolved salts will eventually accumulate on the foliage and slowly kill it. Rain water is by far the best. If the rain water in your area is safe to use, do so. If this is not feasible for you, reverse osmosis or distilled water mixed with tap water can be used.
Some often wonder if they need to fertilize their bromeliads. In a typical Dart Frog terrarium, fertilization is not necessary. This is because the frogs defecate on the plants and fruit flies often drown in the cups. These sources of nutrient seem to provide adequate food for bromeliads. If your terrarium is not destined for frogs any time soon, you can use a very diluted orchid fertilizer. Be careful as these plants can be highly sensitive to fertilizing and will sometimes grow erratically.
Like all living things, bromeliads grow. Some grow very rapidly and reproduce asexually. Asexual reproduction in bromeliads is known as pupping. Pups are small clones of the parent plant that grow from the base or leaf axils. Pups usually begin to grow as the mother plant reaches maturity. These can be removed once they have reached the appropriate age. The best way to determine when to remove a pup is when the foliage of the pup begins to open. When they are young, they look like tubes. It is best to leave these attached to the mother plant. A pup with an open rosette that is ready to be removed will usually be around ½ the size of the mother plant. A good pair of snips or a sharp knife can be used to sever the stolon. The pup can then be planted else where or can be left alone. They will eventually produce their own root system and grow and pup on their own.
Sexual reproduction is another way bromeliads propagate. This method is best left to the experienced horticulturist. It involves pollinating the pistil of one plant with the pollen from another. In a terrarium, it is very difficult to achieve. Every now and then, this does happen on its own. When this happens, the flowers’ ovaries become swollen with seed. This seed can be squeezed out onto various damp surfaces. The seeds usually germinate rather easily but can take a very long time to grow and become a recognizable bromeliad. All bromeliads only flower once in their lifetime. Once a bromeliad flowers, it typically begins to pup and slowly (in most cases) starts to die. This can take 6 months, 1 year, 2 years or longer (or shorter).
Now that you’re familiar with some basic bromeliad principles, we will take a closer look at some specific species and cultivars that work really well in the Dart Frog terrarium.
As you may be aware, the genus Neoregelia is probably the best genus of plants to be used in a typical Dart Frog terrarium. For the most part, they all originate in the rainforest areas of Brazil. Some are tiny (Neo. lilliputiana) and others are gargantuan (Neo. carcharodon). Neoregelia are tank type species. Most hold water although not all are suitable for tadpole rearing. They also have the most colorful foliage in the family. This is mostly because they don’t produce inflorescences that reach beyond the plant. Instead, their flowers reside within the center of the plant. In order to attract pollinators, these plants produce bright flashy colors. These characteristics make them perfect for the Dart Frog terrarium.
Some notable species and cultivars…
Neoregelia fireball is a smaller sized species that is probably the most commonly used species for hybridization. Its foliage becomes solid crimson when grown in strong light. This species works really well for smaller terrariums because it rarely gets larger than 4 or 5 inches wide. It is also large enough to raise tadpoles. N. fireball is easy to obtain from any reputable bromeliad grower and should be rather inexpensive.
Neoregelia compacta is a medium to large sized bromeliad (in terms of terraria). There are a few different varieties of N. compacta but the most desirable for the Dart Frog terrarium is the Small Form. This species is predominantly green. The leaves are wide enough for egg deposition and the leaf cups hold plenty of water for tadpole rearing. These plants pup easily and can fill a terrarium in a year’s time if given ample conditions to do so.
Neoregelia ampullacea is another highly hybridized species. This species exists in many different forms. Some forms are excellent water holding types while others are purely decorative due to their narrow stature. N. ampullacea is also highly variable in size. This is a great species for accenting.
Neoregelia ‘June Night’ is probably my most favorite hybrid. Its medium size and wide leaves make it great for tadpole rearing and its deep red is very contrasting and adds a splash of color to a terrarium.
Neoregelia ‘Ritzy Red’ has to be my second favorite. For its smaller size, this hybrid holds lots of water. Its red foliage mixed with intermittent banding make it quite the stunning plant as well. Plants are about the size of a softball at maturity and make great accents and tadpole rearing sites.
Neoregelia ‘Echo’ is a medium to large sized bromeliad. Its best known and used for its many leaf cups. A full grown specimen could probably hold nearly 2 liters of water. It often produces a nice orange-red color when grown in good light. This plant also seems to never bloom and does pup slowly. Can be expensive but worth the money.
Some of the other genera of bromeliads I like to use in terrariums include Vriesea, Guzmania, Aechmea and Cryptanthus. Vriesea is most notable for their colorful projecting inflorescences and spineless foliage. The genus Guzmania also contains spineless plants. They are epiphytic and seem to do better with lower light conditions. Aechmea are mostly spiney leaved species with a mix of colorful inflorescences. They are found in many Dart Frog habitats. Cryptanthus is the only terrestrial genus that I feel comfortable using in a Dart Frog terrarium. They seems to put up with the moist substrate and lower light pretty well and are usually quite colorful. While not discussed too much in this article, Tillandsia are usable. They will appreciate the upper-most regions of the terrarium where the air is slightly drier and bright.
Vriesea lubbersii is a great little Vriesea species. It rarely gets larger than a softball and its foliage can obtain a very deep red, almost purple, color. The inflorescence on this species reaches far above the plant and is bright red. V. lubbersii holds water and may be suitable for tadpole rearing. At the very least, it is a nice decorative species.
Vriesea vagans is probably my favorite Vriesea for terrariums. It can be fussy with moisture but once established, this plant does very well. It has a very distinctive deep brown color to the base of the plant. These can be sometimes difficult to obtain but do make great subjects for the Dart Frog terrarium if kept properly.
Guzmania lingulata ‘Mini’ is probably the smallest occurring Guzmania. This little plant sort of looks like the top of a pineapple. They can be slow but do quite well in the terrarium. They don’t hold much water at all so they are best used for accenting and decoration.
Aechmea gamosepala is a medium sized bromeliad. Its very similar to Neoregelia compacta ‘Small ‘Form’. This species seems to really do well in the terrarium. A. gamosepala holds plenty of water and should be a good tadpole rearing species. They are relatively easy to grow and should be rather inexpensive to obtain.
Cryptanthus lacerdae ‘Menescal’ is a beautiful species of Cryptanthus. This terrestrial species has reddish foliage with silvery striping. The pups are produced on very long stolons that reach far from the mother plant. C. lacerdae ‘Menescal’ may be hard to obtain but is worth trying.
This is but a miniscule sampling of some of the MANY species and hybrids of bromeliads that would work for the Dart Frog terrarium. The best places to get these plants are online unless you live in a tropical climate where there may be bromeliad nurseries. Many of the bromeliads you see at the big box stores are often not suitable for terrariums b/c they are often stunted and produce pups that are far too large for a typical Dart Frog terrarium. Many Dart Frog supply companies carry bromeliads as well as growers. Two of my favorite places to get bromeliads are Tropiflora Tropiflora - A premier supplier of Bromeliads, Succulents, Orchids and other rare and exotic tropical plants from around the world!) and Michael’s Bromeliads (www.michaelsbromeliads.com: Home). Both of these nurseries have a very large selection of all types of bromeliads from species to hybrids and from minute to gargantuan.
I hope this article has been helpful in some way. It contains information that works for me and I hope that it works for you. Growing and collecting bromeliads can be just as addicting as the Dart Frogs themselves. Have fun growing!
Awesome pictures and great article!! That red and yellow bromeliade is beautiful. Is a particular kind?? I'd like to have one.
That is Neo Herbie, really nice but they need STRONG light to stay that color, I put 1 in a viv (it was a bad spot in the viv) and it turned grass green. The other I have is outside and it is a nice yellow and red. I did move the other outside, it looks healthy, I hope it soon yellows up as well. Here is a pic of the 3 I bought, 1 I sent to Michael (poisen beauties).
Last edited by markpulawski; 10-12-2011 at 12:08 PM..