Catopsis: A Uniquely Beautiful Bromeliad

Author: Celeste Booth2 Comments

Care and Culture, Classification

Catopsis is a genus of bromeliad whose name comes from the Greek word “katopsis” meaning view. Perhaps this name is given to this genus because they are most often found taking in the view from their perches high in trees.


Catopsis are epiphytes, meaning they grow attached to a substrate, such as a tree, rather than in the ground. These types of plants are also commonly referred to as air plants. Their roots are designed to act primarily as anchors. They take in water and nutrients through special scales on their leaves. Many Catopsis have adapted to their life in the trees by having deep vase like rosettes that trap debris and water. 

Catopsis is a relatively small genus of bromeliads with only eighteen species and a few cultivars. The genus however belongs to the broader Tillandsioideae family of bromeliads. In this family Catopsis finds company among many hundreds of air plants.


Air plants

-Catopsis in the wild

Catopsis is one of the genera of bromeliads found in Florida, but the genus can also be found all the way down through Central America and into South America. Plants in this genus usually have rather soft, floppy, green leaves that form a vase like urn. On most plants, the bottoms of the leaves have a waxy appearance. The leaves often curl back and downward away from the plant. Typically the leaves are spineless and flowers protrude from the center on long stalks.

Catopsis berteroniana is one of only a few bromeliads that are considered carnivorous. They have an incredibly broad range starting in the southern tip of Florida and stretching down through Central America and into Southern Brazil. Very few bromeliads have such a broad reach. They can be found growing high in the treetops. Catopsis berteroniana  are nicknamed the jungle lantern because of their iridescent yellow color. They are also coated in a powdery wax that seems to enhance the glowing appearance. Other common names include powdered strap plant and yellow strap plant.

These plants trap insects in their central urn, where they drown and become a sort of nutrient soup as they decompose. It is debated as to whether or not this plant is truly carnivorous, but it is clear that insects are an important part of this bromeliad’s diet.


There are a few other Catopsis native to Florida. The Florida strap airplane or Catopsis floribunda is one of these species. Due to its threatened status it is rarely seen in its native Florida habitats. Its biggest threat is the Mexican bromeliad weevil. This exotic pest was introduced into Florida and has no natural predators. Unchecked it devastates many native Florida bromeliad populations.

The plant has long, narrow, bright, green leaves that create an upright rosette. The plant can grow up to 28 inches long and will produce a ten inch, branched flower stalk that boasts yellow or white flowers. It can be found attached to the lower branches of trees in wet, shady habitats.

Catopsis nutans, also called the nodding airplant, is another rare and endangered Florida bromeliad. It too is threatened by the Mexican bromeliad weevil as well as habitat destruction and illegal collection. The plant can be found in shady cypress swamps and sloughs. It has floppy bright green leaves that grow up to a foot long and taper toward the top. The flowers, which open at night occur from fall to spring. The yellow or orange flowers emerge on a simple flower stalk.


Catopsis morreniana does not occur in Florida. Its native habitat is Costa Rica. It can also be found in Mexico. The plant has glossy, green leaves with silvery scales and a branched flower stalk that produces delicate, yellow flowers.

According to the Florida East Coast Bromeliad society Catopsis subulata adapts well to being grown in a pot instead of being mounted. The base of the plant appears rather bulbous and has a thick waxy appearance. Catopsis subulata produces an attractive and interesting orange inflorescence.


While Catopsis are often difficult to find, they can be grown in cultivation. You will need to search them out from a specialty retailer. They can also be very challenging, If you are a beginner, you may want to start off with a bromeliad that is a little less demanding. If you collect carnivorous plants, Catopsis berteroniana, will be a fun and unique addition to your collection.


As with most epiphytes, rotting is the biggest danger. Catopsis are likely to grow the best when they are mounted on a substrate, but they can be grown terrestrially as well. If you plant your Catopsis in a potting medium, be careful not to overwater. When the soil stays too moist for extended periods of time the roots will rot and will quickly kill the entire plant. Also, only water the plant with distilled or rain water because the plants can be sensitive to mineral build up that comes from watering with tap water.


For the most part Catopsis love moist, humid environments. Try to recreate their native swampy, humid homes in your growing environment. Misting the plants regularly will be the best way to keep them thriving. You may also want to run a humidifier near by, especially if you use central heating or air conditioning. Catoposis also make great terrarium plants because of their love for humidity.


Some Catapsis, like the powdery strap airplant, prefer to take in full sun by dwelling in the tops of trees. Other species prefer shady lower branches. Make sure you know how much light your Catopsis requires so you can provide the appropriate amount. Bright indirect light is usually the best option for any plant. In addition to bright indirect light, Catopsis also prefer warm temperatures. These plants will not tolerate any frost.


Catopsis don’t require much feeding, but they will benefit from an application of fertilizer formulated for bromeliads during the spring and summer months. This is when the plants are actively growing.


A healthy Catopsis will flower and then produce pups or offshoots. These pups can be grown in a clump with the mother plant and they will create a large, attractive mass.


Catopsis are an overlooked genus of bromeliad. While their foliage is not always flashy and the inflorescence isn’t always stunning, they can be attractive and very interesting plants. If you are a bromeliad enthusiast, Catopsis will help complete your collection.


Just keep these simple tips in mind when you start off with your Catopsis and you will have a healthy plant, with offshoots for years to come.

  • Catopsis prefer to be mounted on a substrate.
  • Be sure to expose the plant to plenty of humidity.
  • Don’t overwater.
  • Water with distilled or rain water.
  • Bright indirect light is usually best for the plants.

Have you grown any Catopsis? What trouble spots did you run into? Do you have any tips to share?


Catopsis.” howstufworks.
“Catopsis berteroniana” Wikipedia.
“The Genus Catopsis.” The International Carniverous Plant Society.
Larson Barbara C. et al. “Florida’s Native Bromeliads”University of Florida IFAS Extension.
“Florida’s Native Bromeliads: Florida Strap Airplant.” University of Florida IFAS Extension.
“Back to Basics C is for…” The Florida East Coast Bromeliad Society. March 2008.
FCBS Bromeliad Photo Index Database.

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2 Responses to “Catopsis: A Uniquely Beautiful Bromeliad”

  1. Mary Louise Fey says:

    I have 2 pups should I replant them like the mother plant as soon as l cut them off?

    1. Celeste Booth says:

      Yes they can be repotted in a small pot once they have been removed.

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