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 Tillandsia subsp. var.  Air plant
Tillandsia aeranthos
Habit: bromeliad
Height: to
Width: to
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Lifespan: perennial
Features: flowers, foliage
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USDA Zones: to
Sunset Zones:
Flower features:
Bromeliaceae > Tillandsia var. ,

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The plant genus Tillandsia, a member of the Bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae), is found in the deserts, forests and mountains of Central and South America, and Mexico and the southern United States in North America.

The thinner-leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick-leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Moisture and nutrients are gathered from the air (dust, decaying leaves and insect matter) through structures on the leaves called trichomes.

Tillandsia species are epiphytes (also called aerophytes or air plants) – ie they normally grow without soil while attached to other plants). Epiphytes are not parasitic, depending on the host only for support.

The genus Tillandsia was named by Carolus Linnaeus after the Swedish physician and botanist Dr. Elias Tillandz (originally Tillander) (1640-1693).


Common names for Tillandsia include air plant, Ball moss (T. recurvata) and Spanish moss, the latter referring to T. usneoides in particular.


Tillandsia are epiphytes and need no soil because water and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves. The roots are used as anchors only. Reproduction is by seeds or by offsets called "pups". A single plant could have up to a dozen pups.

Although not normally cultivated for their flowers, some Tillandsia will bloom on a regular basis. In addition, it is quite common for some species to take on a different leaf colour (usually changing from green to red) when about to flower. This is an indication that the plant is monocarpic (flowers once before dying) but offsets around the flowering plant will continue to thrive.

Temperature is not critical, the range being from 32°C down to 10°C. They are sensitive to frost, except for the hardiest species, T. usneoides, which can tolerate night-time frosts down to about -10°C.

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Tillandsia (Elias Tillands was professor of medicine at the University of Abo, Sweden; in 1673 he made a catalogue of plants of the vicinity of Abo). Bromeliaceae. Mostly epiphytes and all natives of America, allied to billbergias, aechmeas, guzmanias, pineapples, and the like; ornamental glasshouse subjects.

Perennial herbs, mostly of upright growth (the common T. usneoides being a marked exception), the bases of the narrow entire lvs. often dilated and forming cups that hold water and in which utricularias and other water-plants sometimes grow: fls. usually borne in spikes or heads, singly beneath bracts, perfect, with 3 sepals and 3 petals which are twisted or rolled in the bud, 6 stamens, a superior ovary with filiform style: fr. a 3-valved caps. containing hairy or plumose seeds. Vriesia is distinguished by having 1 or 2 scales or ligules at the base of the petals on the inside, whereas the petals of Tillandsia are eligulate. By some authors the Spanish moss is placed separately, as Dendropogon usneoides, Raf., distinguished by the habit and also by characters of flower and seed. Some of the cult. tillandsias belong to still other genera. This is the case with T. zebrina, which is properly Cryptanthus zonatus (Fig. 1120, Vol. II). This is an odd plant, producing crinkled deflexed saw-edged lvs., which are whitish beneath and brown-barred above, and small clusters of white fls. See p. 902, where other kinds of Cryptanthus in the American trade are described. Many species are described in horticultural literature as having been intro. into cult. but most of these are known only to amateurs and in collections where species of botanical interest are chiefly grown. In the American trade about 30 names appear, many of which are to be referred to other genera. The generic limits of Tillandsia, as of most bromeliaceous genera, are ill defined. By different authors a given species may be placed in any one of a half-dozen genera. Lately, Tillandsia and Vriesia have been merged, but in this book Vriesia is kept distinct, following Mez's monograph. It is useless to attempt a description of all the tillandsias that by chance may occur in collections. Persons who want to know the species other than those regularly in the trade should consult Baker's Handbook of the Bromeliaceae, 1889, or Mez's Bromeliaceae in DeCandolle's Monographiae Phanerogamarum, 1896. The latter work, which regards Vriesia as a separate genus, admits 248 species of Tillandsia. The genus extends northward into the U. S., growing chiefly in Fla., and Texas, although one or two reach S. Ga., and the Spanish moss (which is Tillandsia usneoides) reaches Va. and is common throughout the South. The native upright tillandsias are not in the general trade, but they are sometimes offered: of such are T. recurvata, T. tenuifolia, T. fasciculata, T. utriculata.

Tillandsias are grown both for foliage and for flowers. The foliage is usually scurfy and sometimes blotched. Many of the species are very showy when in bloom, sending up strong central clusters of blue, violet, red, yellow, or white flowers. In nature, the seeds are carried in the wind by means of the soft hairs, and find lodgment on trees, where the plants grow. A few species, however, grow on the ground. In cultivation, most of the species are treated as pot-plants. The growing season is summer. In winter the plants should be kept nearly dormant, although not completely dry. They need a warm temperature and plenty of light while growing. Give a soil rich in peat. In some cases sphagnum may be added to advantage. Propagation is by suckers; also by seeds. For further cultural notes, consult Billbergia.

T. bivittata, Lind.- Cryptanthus bivittatus. — T. Blokii, Hort.- Vriesia Blokii. — T. dianthoides, Rossi. Scape manifest, bearing a simple infl.: fls. erect; sepals glabrous; petals violet. S. Amer. Gt. 3:138. R.H. 1905:464.— T. Duratii, Vis. Infl. bi- or tri-pinnately paniculate: fls. erect; petals blue. S. Amer. Gt. 50, p. 452. — T. farinosa, Hort.-Billbergia pyramidalis. — T. ionantha, Planch. Lvs. densely tufted, densely scaly: infl. simple, dense, and short; petals violet Mex. B.M. 5892. — T. La Salliana, "A new species from S. Amer., with most brilliant fls. It is of free growth and easily cult. thriving best in a moderate temperature and in a light, fibrous soil mixed with sphagnum." (Siebrecht.) — T. Lindenii - T. Lindeniana. — T. musaica - Guzmania. — T. muscosa, Hort., is probably a Pitcairnia. P. muscosa, Hook., B.M. 4770, is Pitcairnia Beycalema. The name T. muscosa has occurred in the trade, but the plant is unknown to the writer. — T. polytrichioides. Mass. Lvs. small, densely clothing an elongated st.: infl. 2-4-fld.: petals pale. S. Amer. R.H. 1912, p. 431. — T. splendens—Vriesia. — T. Wilsonii, Wats., has been intro. sparingly to cult., but does not appear to be in the trade. It was discovered in Hernando Co., Fla., in 1887 by W. P. Wilson, of the Univ. of Penna.: "St simple, very short (about 1/2 in. ): lvs. numerous, 1-3 or 4 in. long, gradually narrowed from the clasping base to the long-attenuate apex, channeled above, more or less hoary, with minute appressed, peltate, brown-centered scales: peduncle very slender, recurved, about equaling the lvs., with 2 distinct bracts, probably 1-3-fld.: fls. and caps. not seen." This is Sereno Watson's original description, 1888. See Mn. 2, p. 180, and 6, p. 130, for pictures.—T. xiphioides, Ker. Lvs. densely scaly: scape very short or wanting: petals white. Argentina. G.W. 6, p. 291. B.R. 105.—T. Zahnii, Hort., is properly Guzmania Zahnii, Mez. Tufted, branching from the base, glabrous throughout: lvs. 1 ft. long, about 1 in. broad, crimson striped and yellow: infl. paniculate, subtended by scarlet bracts: fls. yellow. Costa Rica. B.M. 6059 (as Caraguata Zahnii). In the trade. The following names are accounted for under Vriesia: carinata, fenestralis, guttata, hieroglyphica, psittacina, Saundersii, tessellata, zebrina (in part). CH

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.


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