Dew covered lemongrass leaves arch over neoregelia "tequila".
The short answer is "not always". Neoregelias are known among gardeners to be "full sun" bromeliads and are often marketed as some of the few bromeliads that can truly take the scalding light of a Florida summer.
Which is true... but not in all situations. Research and anecdotal evidence from forums and experienced bloggers is giving me a different view, along with some exceptions.
Neoregelias can thrive in full sun unless:
They're in Strong Mixed Light
Mixed light is the type that you get against buildings or walls, where there is deep shade for much of the day, and full direct sunlight for the rest of the day. This is likely to cause scorching since they get used to the acute angle of the sun in cooler months and its abundant shading, only to be shocked by burning sun in summer when the sun beats down from overhead.
The Nights aren't Cool Enough
Specifically, when nighttime temperatures stay hot, the color bleaching is more pronounced.
According to the publication: Bromeliads: A Cultural Manual by Bromeliad Society International,
"The lower range of nighttime temperatures may help bring out leaf colors and markings, especially with neoregelias."
I recently sent some pups of a bilbergia hybrid, neoregelia mottles, dyckia frigida and a quesnelia to Danger Garden, based in Portland Oregon. Here in Florida the coloration was faded or nonexistent in full sun and bright light, but judging by her photos they are coloring up brighter than I have ever seen, no doubt thanks to Oregon's cooler nights.
They're in a Heat Trap
Planting near concrete and rocks can make it hotter or brighter as well, just as they help to keep the microclimate warmer in winter by absorbing the sun's energy and releasing heat slowly throughout the day and night. Dark hardscaping absorbs more light, but subsequently releases more heat. Lighter hardscaping such as concrete reflects the light, releasing less energy at night but stressing the plant with even brighter light than usual. Of course, the heat releasing properties of stones and concrete is worthwhile when winter rears its ugly head, so don't rule it out.
There isn't Enough Shade
I know, 'full sun' means no shade, right? Not necessarily. Remember that direct light in the afternoon is stronger and hotter than morning sun. The ideal location for any bromeliad is in the "orchid light" under the canopy of a live oak or jacaranda, where they get direct sunlight but in dappled and shifting form, with the line between shadows and light blurred by the distance between the canopy and the ground. Even commercial growers such as Tropiflora of Sarasota and Tropical World of Boynton Beach (two of my favorites) still use shade cloth over their stock of "full sun" bromeliads. The color's and forms are still superb, I assure you.
Its the Wrong Plant
Not all neoregelias are equally suited to full sun. If they are stressed, relocate to a shadier spot and consider replacing them with spikier types like dyckia, aechmea distichantha, puya or hechtias. Neoregelia marmorata and concentrica hybrids are among the best neoregelias, but you can make some pretty good guesses based on the leaves. Here are some tips from Bromeliads for the Contemorary Garden by Andrew Steens.
For Full Sun: Try to choose plants that have "... leaves very spiky and succulent in appearance, either green or colored..."
For Nearly Full Sun: "... leaves heavily colored in red, maroon, yellow, purple aor black and quite leathery..."
Part Shade: "... leaves mainly green, but quite leathery and tough..." or "leaves highly colored or variegated, but quite glossy, soft and pliable..."
You'll notice that even the neoregelias that most folks (myself included) plant in direct sun are classified in the "nearly full sun" or "part shade" categories. Specifically, he says to "Plant where they can get morning or late afternoon sun."
See how bleached the neoregelias are? They get scorching sun in the afternoon, during the hottest part of the day.
Since this one was under a lady palm, the coloration is much better. A little shade goes a very long way.
Planting among rocks and concrete also adds heat, so be sure to provide more shade.
- Mixed light is harsher than part sun.
- Leaves are paler when the nights are hot.
- Planting against concrete and rocks makes it hotter.
- Light colored concrete and rocks make it brighter.
- Full sun is relative... provide a little shade.
- Pick bromeliads with leathery and spiky foliage for full sun.
So what are your experiences?