You can identify bromeliads by the color, structure and shape of their leaves, flowers and inflorescence. These characteristics sort bromeliads into the following 12 popular genus types: Dyckia, Hechtia, Cryptanthus, Puya, Pitcairnia, Neoregelia, Nidularium, Aechmea, Billbergia, Tillandsia, Guzmania or Vriesea.
Dyckia bromeliads grow naturally south of the equator, while Hechtia specimens grow north of the equator. Both feature succulent, tapered leaves with spiny edges. Cryptanthus leaves also have spiny edges, but they grow in a star pattern. Puya leaves are gray-green with extra long prickles. Bromeliads with grass-like leaves typically come from the genus Pitcairnia. Neoregelia plants feature flower rosettes held low within their strap-like leaves. Nidularium flowers appear on short, star-shaped pedestals. On Aechmea bromeliads, the inflorescence stands tall, whereas on Billbergia varieties the inflorescence weeps in a tube shape. Tillandsia leaves possess no cut edges and appear gray. If the leaves have no edge spines but are green, they come from the genus Guzmania or Vriesea. Guzmania leaves contain lengthwise red lines, whereas Vriesea are patterned or completely green.
The world contains more than 3,100 species of bromeliads. While people grow many of these plants for ornamental purposes, the pineapple is a famous food crop. The largest bromeliad, Puya raimondii, stretches up to 13 feet tall.