The Remarkable Tillandsias
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.
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
with blooms that last for months
from misty mountain forests
native to South Florida,
in bloom for 4-6 months
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