The Remarkable Tillandsias

T. stricta

Having grown bromeliads for more than 20 years, I am constantly amazed at how diverse the family is. One of the more durable groups is the genus Tillandsia, often called ( wrongly) "air plants". I have grown to appreciate their durability and colorful flowers, which often last a very long time. There are hundreds of species, from petite tufted species under an inch tall to 7 foot-diameter giants that weigh hundreds of pounds. The natural habitat for this genus is quite diverse, with climates ranging from cool, high-mountain aeries to the most brutal of desert climates, but all species are New World. I see so many instances of the smaller species glued to a seashell or piece of driftwood, sometimes with a magnet attached, and sold at retail stores as plants which need no care, thriving only on air. Let me clarify the culture of these remarkable plants. 

T. duratii

 Most of the species likely to be found in the retail trade are the so-called "hard leaf" varieties, which grow naturally on trees in large clusters, surviving on fog, rain, and organic matter from the plants above them. In most cases, they grow in very bright locations, often in all day sunlight. The brilliant flowers attract insects, hummingbirds and small nectar-feeding birds. In the case of the amazing T. duratii, the beautiful blue flowers also have a strong smell of grape juice !  

one of the giant, soft-leaf species
from highland Mexico

In most cases, these plants like to be mounted on pieces of rough wood, or in a slat basket to allow the roots to breathe. The plants will grow and bloom best if they are given very bright light, with  at least a few hours of direct sunlight per day. In the case of the silver-leaved species, 6-8 hours of sun per day is required for good growth. The plants take up most of their water and nutrients through the foliage, and have very limited root systems. This allows the plants to be glued to almost anything, since the roots are functioning only as anchors, not as means to take up water or fertilizer. Spraying the plants with water or dilute fertilizer is the best water to cultivate Tillandsia species. The main mistake people make with Tillandsia culture is they shade the plants too much. In so many cases, the plants grow in very bright light or direct sunshine in nature, not sitting on a kitchen counter. Once you discover how rewarding the plants can be when grown properly, there is a world of species available at very low cost, which propagate themselves readily, require very little care, and show off some of the most brilliant and complex flowers in the plant world.     

T. jalisco-monticola
with blooms that last for months

T. prodigiosa
from misty mountain forests

T. fasciculata
native to South Florida,
in bloom for 4-6 months

T. magnispica
with a 24 inch tall flower stem
 Our native T. fasciculata comes in many color forms, the most richly colored of which are ruby-red, shining like jewels in the gray-brown forests of winter-dormant Bald Cypress Trees. Given the diversity of the genus, I am still curious as to why people have so little knowledge of what is available. The supply of plants is extremely good, although I must admit that if all you have for the supplier of bromeliads is a garden center in Des Moines, Iowa, the garden staff may not have much demand for the larger species. There are numerous suppliers of species on-line, and the service from them tends to be quite good. I encourage people to experiment with these wonderful plants, but give them plenty of sunlight. You will be rewarded with long-lasting flowers of surreal beauty

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens       


  1. I love tillandsias and would love to grow them attached to my oak trees. Can you recommend any native varieties for central Florida.

    1. Hi Susan- there, unfortunately, rather few native Tillandsias in Central Florida, and they are not very flashy. T. bartramii and T. usneoides ( Spanish Moss) are among the few that will grow in Central Fla.There are lots of the smaller Tillandsia species that will grow just fine outdoors on all but the coldest nights, but they are not native. One of the best firms to consult would be Tropiflora in Sarasota, true experts in the bromeliad world. You can find them online at Tropiflora.com, or call them at 800-613-7520. They can make excellent recommendations as to which species can be grown where. Russell's Bromeliads in Clermont is also quite good with Tillandsia culture, call them at 407-656-5541

      One option to consider is to mount clusters of Tillandsias on a large cork board or cypress plank which you could move to shelter on the coldest nights. There are numerous cold-protection methods for maintaining plants ouitdoors through cold weather, but they require some effort.Give these 2 vendors a call and see what they can do for you. Good luck ! Thanks for reading the blog..

      Craig Morel
      Pinecrest Gardens

    2. There are 16 native Tillandsias in Florida,according to my research, though 10 are now listed by the state as threatened or endangered. Here are some of them: Tillandsia utriculata, T. balbisiana, T. variabilis or T. valenzuelana, T. bartramii, T. fasciculata or T. hystricina, T. flexnosa or T. aloifolia, T. paucifolia or T. circinnata or T. bulbosa, T. pruinosa or T. breviscapa, T. recurvata, T. setecea or T. tenuifolia, T. simulata & T. usneoides.
      I agree that your local bromeliad experts would be the ones to ask, just thought this list of natives might be helpful. Great blog!

  2. Here is a link to a list if native Tillandsias by county in Florida:

  3. Thank you for posting this! I recently bout 7 air plants, and I live in Sunrise FL and I'm trying to give my tillandsias the best possible care!