How to Grow Cryptanthus Bromeliads (Earth Stars) Indoors

Updated: 09 Oct, 2023


Cryptanthus bromeliads, known colloquially as earth stars for their distinctive rosette-shaped leaves and low, sprawling growth, represent a captivating and diverse family of plants originating from the vibrant landscapes of Brazil. Within the Cryptanthus genus, enthusiasts can marvel at the astonishing array of over 1,200 distinct varieties, each distinguished by its unique foliage. The palette of colors spans from deep, verdant greens to vivid pinks and striking reds, while patterns can range from banded and spotted to solid or virtually any other configuration.

While primarily prized for their intriguing leaves, Cryptanthus species also unveil delicate, small blossoms in shades of white or pink, adding an extra layer of allure to their already beguiling presence. It is worth noting, however, that these blooms grace the plant only once, as afterward, they give way to the production of offsets, affectionately known as “pups,” before the parent plant concludes its life cycle.

For those fortunate enough to inhabit suitable zones, the opportune time to introduce these captivating bromeliads to the outdoors is during the revitalizing seasons of spring or the burgeoning days of summer.

What is a Cryptanthus Bromeliad?

A Cryptanthus bromeliad, commonly referred to as an Earth Star, is a type of ornamental plant belonging to the bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae). Native to Brazil, these plants are known for their distinctive rosette-shaped arrangement of leaves and their low-growing habit. They derive their name “Earth Star” from their resemblance to a star-shaped flower when viewed from above.

Cryptanthus bromeliads come in a wide variety of species, with over 1,200 known types within the Cryptanthus genus. These plants exhibit a diverse range of foliage patterns, colors, and textures. Their leaves can be banded, spotted, solid, or display virtually any other pattern, making them popular among plant enthusiasts for their aesthetic appeal.

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Common NameCryptanthus bromeliad, cryptanthus, earth star
Botanical NameCryptanthus spp.
Plant TypeTerrestrial bromeliad
Mature Size3 in. to 3 ft. (varies by species)
Sun ExposureBright indirect light; resents direct sunlight
Soil TypeBromeliad potting mix
Soil pH4.0–6.0 (acidic)
Bloom TimeBlooms once only 
Flower ColorWhite or pink (but generally grown for foliage)
Hardiness Zones10–11 (USDA)
Native AreaBrazil

Cryptanthus Bromeliad Care

Various species within the Cryptanthus genus exhibit distinct care requirements, underscoring the importance of understanding the specific needs of your particular bromeliad. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental principles that apply universally to all Cryptanthus bromeliads.

These plants thrive in environments characterized by high humidity levels, and they flourish best in temperate conditions akin to room temperature. Additionally, they benefit greatly from regular fertilization. By adhering to these basic guidelines, and delving into the specific care regimen tailored to your plant, you’ll soon find yourself cultivating resplendent bromeliads with ease.

In contrast to many other bromeliads, Cryptanthus plants are primarily terrestrial, naturally rooted in a soil medium rather than being epiphytic “air plants” that can be affixed to various surfaces like bark or other objects.

While the Cryptanthus bromeliad experiences its singular bloom in its lifespan, its ability to generate offsets presents an opportunity to maintain a perpetual cycle of flowering. Although the parent plant withers after its bloom, the offspring, known as “pups,” can be carefully transplanted to ensure a continuous supply of these enchanting plants.


Different Cryptanthus varieties have specific light requirements. Generally, they thrive in spots with indirect sunlight or light shade, mimicking their natural habitat under the canopy of trees in rainforests. Direct sunlight can potentially lead to bleached or leathery foliage.


Avoid regular potting soil for terrestrial Cryptanthus. Commercial potting soil with a base of peat moss is suitable, providing the necessary acidity. There are also specialized potting mixes designed for bromeliads. Some gardeners opt for a combination of sand and soil, but regardless of the mix, it’s crucial to maintain consistent moisture retention for optimal results.


Cryptanthus thrive in tropical conditions and prefer to be kept consistently moist. However, avoid allowing them to sit in standing water. A moderately damp environment suffices. These plants surprisingly tolerate short periods of drought, but overwatering in low temperatures may lead to rot.

The central cup (tank) of the plant can be used to water the mother plant. Remember to replace the water weekly and gently clean out any debris, dust, or deceased insects with a moist paper towel to prevent pest attraction.

Temperature and Humidity:

Cryptanthus are excellent houseplants, thriving in temperatures ranging from 60 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They are fairly resilient to temperature fluctuations, though temperate conditions are preferred. Some varieties can even endure outdoor winter conditions as long as freezing temperatures are avoided.

As tropical plants, Cryptanthus appreciate relatively humid conditions. This can be achieved by using a room humidifier or regularly misting the plant.


Regular fertilization is essential for the optimal growth of these bromeliads. They respond well to balanced fertilizers like 10-10-10 or 14-14-14, but ensure they are diluted to 1/4 to 1/2 strength to avoid damaging the plant. Feed them every three weeks for best results.

Types of Cryptanthus

Cryptanthus encompasses a vast genus with an astonishing diversity of plants, ensuring there’s a bromeliad to suit every gardener’s preferences. For example, the ‘Black Mystic’ variety boasts enigmatic, dark-hued foliage, while the ‘Osiris’, often referred to as the rainbow star, bursts forth with vibrant and lively colors.

When making your selection, it’s worth noting that the botanical names of bromeliad species often provide valuable insights into their appearance. Some common descriptors include:

  • Bivittatus: adorned with two distinct stripes
  • Coriaceous: feather-like in texture
  • Lacerdae: bearing a tattered or frayed look
  • Latifolius: featuring broad and wide leaves
  • Marginatus: marked with well-defined margins
  • Zonatus: displaying distinctive zones or bands
  • Surantiacus: adorned in striking shades of orange
  • Carnosus: tinged with hues akin to pink or meat
  • Fuscus: characterized by a dark, dusky complexion
  • Viridis: exhibiting lush shades of green
  • Acaulis: lacking a prominent stem
  • Bromelioides: resembling a typical bromelia
  • Scaposus: possessing a pronounced scape or stem
  • Sinuosus: displaying sinuous or winding traits

These botanical indicators provide valuable guidance for selecting the perfect Cryptanthus to complement your gardening vision.

Potting and Repotting Cryptanthus Bromeliads

Bromeliads thrive in slightly acidic soil, making peat-based commercial potting mixes an excellent choice (avoiding regular soil without peat). Opt for a terracotta pot with effective drainage, ensuring it’s spacious enough to accommodate the offsets that emerge around the mother plant post-blooming. Terracotta is ideal due to its porous nature, providing the roots with essential oxygen and minimizing the risk of rot.

Repotting a bromeliad is unnecessary, as it naturally reaches the end of its life cycle after flowering. The original pot can be repurposed to nurture one of the emerging pups once the mother plant is taken out. This sustainable approach allows for the continuous cultivation of these captivating plants.

Propagating Cryptanthus Bromeliads

The sole method of propagating this plant is by repotting its pups. Once the mother plant has bloomed and produced offshoot pups, allow these pups to develop their own small root systems. Then, with precision, carefully separate the pups and transplant them individually, ensuring they have started to form their own central cups, indicating their readiness for independent growth.

Keep in mind that their root systems will extend to approximately the width of the foliage, so select a sufficiently spacious pot. Additionally, remember to maintain consistent moisture for the pups during their initial stages of development. This meticulous process ensures the successful propagation and growth of these unique plants.

Uses For Cryptanthus Bromeliad

Cryptanthus bromeliads, with their unique and captivating appearance, have several uses in various settings:

  • Ornamental Houseplants: Cryptanthus bromeliads are popular choices for indoor decoration due to their striking foliage. They can be placed in pots, containers, or terrariums to add a touch of natural beauty to any living space.
  • Terrariums and Mini Gardens: Their compact size and interesting foliage make Cryptanthus bromeliads excellent choices for terrariums and miniature gardens. They can create a visually appealing focal point within a confined space.
  • Landscaping: In regions with suitable climates, Cryptanthus bromeliads can be planted outdoors. They make great ground cover plants, adding color and texture to garden beds and borders.
  • Container Gardening: Planted in pots or containers, Cryptanthus bromeliads can serve as eye-catching accents on patios, balconies, or in courtyards. Their low growth habit and varied colors make them versatile choices for container gardening.
  • Air Purification: Like many houseplants, Cryptanthus bromeliads contribute to improving indoor air quality by absorbing pollutants and releasing oxygen.
  • Indoor Green Walls: Due to their low maintenance requirements and unique appearance, Cryptanthus bromeliads can be incorporated into vertical gardens or green walls, adding a dynamic element to interior design.
  • Educational Purposes: Cryptanthus bromeliads can be used in educational settings to teach about plant diversity, botany, and horticulture. Their intriguing growth habits and diverse foliage patterns offer valuable learning opportunities.
  • Wedding Decor: Cryptanthus bromeliads’ striking appearance and variety of colors can be used as decorative elements in weddings and special events. They can be incorporated into centerpieces, bouquets, or even used as table settings.
  • Gifts and Presents: Cryptanthus bromeliads are often given as gifts due to their unique and visually appealing nature. They make thoughtful presents for plant enthusiasts or as housewarming gifts.
  • Artistic Inspiration: The fascinating shapes, colors, and patterns of Cryptanthus bromeliads can serve as inspiration for artists and designers in various creative endeavors, from paintings to textiles and beyond.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Common Pests:

Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects feed on plant sap, causing leaves to curl and distort. They can be green, brown, or black.

Spider Mites: These tiny arachnids can cause stippling and webbing on leaves, and they thrive in dry conditions.

Mealybugs: Small, white, cotton-like insects that cluster on leaves and stems, draining sap and causing stunted growth.

Scale Insects: These insects look like small bumps on stems and leaves. They can be hard to spot but can cause yellowing and wilting.

Fungus Gnats: These are small, black flies that lay eggs in the soil. The larvae feed on plant roots.

Common Diseases:

Root Rot: This fungal disease thrives in waterlogged soil and causes roots to rot, leading to wilting and stunted growth.

Powdery Mildew: A white, powdery substance appears on leaves, hindering photosynthesis and weakening the plant.

Leaf Spot: Circular, dark spots form on leaves, often caused by fungal or bacterial infections. This can weaken the plant.

Bacterial Wilt: This disease causes wilting, yellowing, and eventual death of the plant. It’s caused by bacteria in the soil.

Botrytis Blight: Also known as gray mold, this fungus causes brown spots on leaves and stems, and it can lead to plant death.

Prevention and Treatment:

Quarantine: Isolate new plants for a few weeks to ensure they’re pest-free before introducing them to your collection.
Regular Inspection: Check plants regularly for signs of pests or diseases, and take action promptly if you spot any issues.
Good Hygiene: Keep the growing area clean and free from debris, as this can harbor pests and diseases.
Proper Watering: Avoid overwatering, as waterlogged soil can lead to root rot. Ensure good drainage.
Natural Predators: Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs or predatory mites to help control pest populations.
Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap: These natural treatments can be effective against many common pests.
Fungicides: Use appropriate fungicides for fungal diseases, following label instructions carefully.

Common Problems With Bromeliads

Bromeliads exude breathtaking beauty when they’re in good health, but like any plant, they can encounter a few issues, whether they’re thriving indoors or out. Regularly inspect your bromeliad for the following potential problems:

Dull Color: If your bromeliad lacks vibrant hues, it likely needs more exposure to light.

Browning Leaves: Various factors can cause a bromeliad’s leaves to turn brown. It might indicate that the mother plant has completed its life cycle and is in decline. Assess the condition of the surrounding pups for further insight. Other causes of browning include:

  • Dry air
  • Excessive moisture in the medium
  • Leaf spot

Fading Flower: A wilting bloom is a natural phase signaling the conclusion of the mother plant’s life cycle. Trim the spent flower with a sharp, sterilized tool and dispose of it. This allows the plant to redirect energy towards producing pups.

Papery Leaves: Exposure to high temperatures and low humidity levels can lead to the leaves becoming parched and brittle.

Drooping Plant: Insufficient light can cause the plant to droop and lose vitality. Wilting leaves may also indicate the presence of root rot.

Unpleasant Odor: A foul odor emanating from the plant’s cup could suggest crown rot. Inspect the cup for signs of sogginess or discoloration. While it may be too late to save the main plant, check if there are viable pups for propagation.

How Many Types of Cryptanthus Bromeliads Are There?

There are over 1,200 known varieties within the Cryptanthus genus, each with unique foliage patterns and colors.

How Do I Care for a Cryptanthus Bromeliad?

Provide indirect sunlight, well-draining soil, and maintain a humid environment. Keep the soil consistently damp but avoid overwatering.

Do Cryptanthus Bromeliads Bloom?

Yes, Cryptanthus bromeliads produce small white or pink blooms. However, they bloom only once in their lifetime before producing offsets (pups) and then eventually dying.

Can I Grow Cryptanthus Bromeliads Outdoors?

Yes, in suitable zones, Cryptanthus bromeliads can be planted outdoors in spring or summer. They thrive in temperate climates.

What Are Some Common Varieties of Cryptanthus Bromeliads?

Examples include the ‘Black Mystic’ with dark foliage and ‘Osiris’ (rainbow star) known for its bright and colorful appearance.

How Do I Propagate Cryptanthus Bromeliads?

The primary method of propagation is by repotting the offshoot pups that emerge from the mother plant after it blooms.

What Are Some Common Pests and Diseases of Cryptanthus Bromeliads?

Common pests include aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs. Diseases may include root rot, powdery mildew, and bacterial wilt.


Cryptanthus bromeliads, with their captivating rosette-shaped leaves and wide array of colors and patterns, are remarkable plants that find versatile applications in various settings. Whether as ornamental houseplants, additions to terrariums, or accents in container gardens, their unique aesthetic appeal enhances indoor and outdoor spaces alike. Furthermore, their contribution to air purification and potential use in educational contexts underscores their value beyond their visual charm.

Cryptanthus bromeliads serve as ground cover plants, adding texture and color to garden beds. Their adaptability to different environments and suitability for vertical gardens make them valuable assets in horticultural and design projects.

Mary Lloyster

Mary Lloyster

Mary, the ultimate oracle of indoor gardening! With years of experience and a flourishing indoor expo, Mary has become our go-to expert for all things related to house plants and indoor gardening. Despite her background in Political Science, Mary has discovered a delightful way to blend her full-time job with a touch of relaxation through indoor gardening. Now, she eagerly shares her wisdom and experiences with our readers on a daily basis. If you have any inquiries about house plants, indoor gardening techniques, or caring tips, don't hesitate to leave a comment for Mary in the designated section below!

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