Queen’s Tears, A Magnificent Plant

by Marsha Krassner, Bexar County Master Gardener

June 2023

Patience is a virtue, especially with gardening.  After a long winter, my Queen’s Tears began to bloom. And, bloom, and bloom, and bloom!

Queen’s Tears (Billbergia nutans) is a genus of bromeliads characterized by long, dark green to silvery green leaves with toothed edges and a leathery feel. When the plant begins to bloom, beautiful pendant flowers of varying shades of pink appear, producing clusters of flowers with blue and green segments. At the tip of each flower are feathery spikes of blue. The flowers have elongated yellow stamens, giving the entire bloom a rainbow appearance.  When touched, the flowers release nectar, earning it the common name “Queen’s Tears.”

Another name is the Friendship Plant, so called because it is easy to propagate and pass on to friends.

This beautifully flowering epiphytic plant is native to the rainforests of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Argentina, and is also found in Central Mexico. The plant’s small roots anchor themselves to branches, and these tree-dwelling plants gather moisture and nutrients through their leaves.

Caring for Queen’s Tears

Light Needs     Billbergia nutans plants prefer bright light to partial shade or indirect light to maintain the plant’s health. San Antonio’s hot sunny summers can destroy the flowers, so be careful   where you place the plant, whether it is in the ground or in a container. Mine sits on my front porch and appears to be thriving in this location.

Water Needs    Billbergia do not require much water, but they do like high humidity which is fortunately in high supply in south Texas.  As is true with epiphytes, the plant gathers most of its moisture from the air through the leaves and flowers. During the summer months, the leaves, flowers, and roots should be watered daily to keep them moist, but never soggy.

Any flower cups pointing upward should be filled with water and the center of the plant should also be filled with water but the soil should be allowed to dry out between each wetting. During the fall, winter and cooler parts of spring, the plant should be misted every few days and watered enough to keep the soil just shy of dry.

While experts suggest using distilled water or rain water to avoid mineral buildup on the leaves, I use my gardening hose to water the plant with no ill effects. Do not soak the base of the plant, as it can lead to root rot.

Temperature   Billbergias grow well at normal room temperatures. Even though this bromeliad is hardy down to freezing temperatures, prolonged exposure to low temperatures will affect the blooming season. When the temperature gauge drops to 45°F or lower, I bring mine inside. In the summer, this particular plant enjoys warm temperatures outdoors between 64°F to 81°F. My plant has not been affected by extreme summer heat, thus far.

Potting  The Queen’s Tears variety is theleast demanding of bromeliads in terms of soil mixture. 

My bromeliad has flourished in an organic potting soil mix, although I have read that they also do well with a mixture of two parts perlite or tree bark.

Since the roots are not extensive, they can be grown in relatively small pots.  For example, a 5-inch clay pot will allow several rosettes producing flowering heads to develop, but this variety often looks most regal when grown as a single specimen with its tall tubular shape. Young plants should be moved into pots one size larger in early spring when it appears necessary.

While bromeliads will survive in dry, shaded garden beds that are well-drained, I recommend keeping it in a pot that you may quickly bring inside since we have begun to have colder winters (and, even snow!).

Propagation   One of the plant’s common names is Friendship Plant, an appropriate moniker because they are easy to propagate and pass along to friends and fellow gardeners. They should be propagated in the spring by carefully removing offshoots: since very young offshoots rarely root successfully, only remove them when they are at least 4 to 6 inches long and have begun to assume the characteristics of the parent plant.

The offshoots should be planted shallowly, retaining any roots that may already have developed, and placed in a potting mixture and in an area that receives medium light. It may be necessary to insert a thin stake until the plant develops enough roots to anchor it down. Make sure the potting mixture is just barely moist, allowing the top 0.8 to 2 inches to dry out between waterings. The offshoots should begin to firmly root after about 8 weeks. Thereafter, treat the new Billbergia nutans plants exactly the same way as mature plants.

Problems With Queen’s Tears

The Billbergia nutans plants are not susceptible to diseases and do not need pruning.

Flowering has been cited as a potential problem. Thus far, my Queen’s Tears began flowering profusely in April without any help on my part.  The blooms typically last for 6 to 8 weeks, a delightful reward for your patience throughout the rest of the year.

But, at maturity, if your plant has not produced any blooms, it may be because it is not getting enough light. In those cases, move the plant to a brighter location. Mine is located on my porch and is partially shaded. 

Another tip to encourage flowering is to add a pinch of Epsom salts to the water for about month.  I have also read that placing a ripe apple or a few apple cores around the plant and enclosing the plant in a clear plastic bag for a week or two will help flower buds to form, since ripening apples produce ethylene gas that encourages flower budding. Keep the plant out of direct sun while it is covered with plastic to prevent it from getting too hot.

Good luck and enjoy the beauty of this plant!

(Photos by Author)