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Introduction to Tillandsias 

Introduction to Tillandsias

These rather bizarre looking plants come from the family of flora Bromeliaceae (bro-me-lee-a-cee-ee), more commonly called BROMELIADS. The Bromeliad family includes a wide range of plants such as the pineapple, (Ananus comosus), and the famous "Spanish moss",(Tillandsia usneoides). A plant family name is used to describe a broad variety of related plants. Cactus, Fern, and Orchid are plant family names with which you are probably more familiar. More closely related plants in these families are separated into GENERA (sing., GENUS); the staghorns (Platycerium) and maidenhair (Adiantum) ferns are examples of two different fern genera within the fern family. Each individual type of plant is then given a species name which separates it from all other plants.

The plants discussed in this series of articles are in the Bromeliad Genus, Tillandsia.

The Bromeliad Genus, Tillandsia, is named after a Swedish physician, Elias Tillands (d. 1693). It is an epiphytic (able to grow without soil) genus comprised of over 400 recognized species. In numbers of species it is by far the largest genus in the family and many more species will undoubtedly be discovered over the next few years as man spreads further into previously impregnable jungles. Some tillandsia species are ubiquitous, growing over thousands of square miles. Many number in the millions in their native habitat. There are also a few exotic species that are confined to a single valley or mountain range. Because of their very specialized growth requirements, these exotic species are not generally offered for sale to the public.

With the exception of some of the southern parts of the U.S., all tillandsias come from Latin America. Most tillandsias proliferate in the humid jungles, growing on tree branches along with various orchids, ferns and philodendron. They are also found at high elevations in the cool Andes cloud forests. Some grow on rocky cliffs (saxicolous), some are found in the deserts where they get almost no rainfall (xerophytic), and others can be found in the grassy plains.

Tillandsias are true air plants, unlike the popular "air fern" which is no more than green-dyed seaweed from England. They are able to sustain themselves by feeding from the precipi­tation of rain, dew, and humidity in the air. The leaves absorb moisture and organic food requirements from the dust in the air, insect matter, etc.

Tillandsias are tremendously adaptable, tolerating a wider range of conditions than most other plants. After being placed in a good location and having made the adjustment to their new surroundings, they are capable of surviving a long period of time without attention. Take care of them, but don't be a slave to them. They will manage just fine!

For more about Tillandsias, click on these links for our other articles: