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Tillandsia schiedeana - MHNT

Tillandsia is a genus of around 730 species of evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae, native to the forests, mountains and deserts of Central and South America, the southern United States and the West Indies.[2] Tillandsia species are epiphytes (also called aerophytes or air plants) – i.e. they normally grow without soil while attached to other plants. Generally, 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 recurvata and another Bromeliaceae species on electric wires near San Juan de los Morros, Venezuela
Fruit of Spanish moss

Tillandsia are epiphytes and need no soil because water and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves.[3] The roots are mainly used as anchors. Propagation is by seeds or by offsets called "pups". A single plant could yield up to a dozen pups. Offsets can be separated when about 2/3 the size of their mother to encourage a new colony.

Although not normally cultivated for their flowers, some Tillandsia will bloom on a regular basis. However, while some may exhibit a spectacular inflorescence, most flowers are generally small. Some species flowers may change color through the blooming cycle. Some species or varieties produce fragrant flowers. In addition, it is quite common for some species to take on a different leaf color (usually changing from green to red), called "blushing", 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.


The genus Tillandsia was named by Carl Linnaeus after the Swedish physician and botanist Dr. Elias Tillandz (originally Tillander) (1640–1693). Some common types of Tillandsia include air plant, ball moss (T. recurvata) and Spanish moss, the latter referring to T. usneoides in particular. The genus contains around 730 species,[4] traditionally divided into seven subgenera:[5]

Four species are protected under CITES II:[6]


Tillandsia species grow through a process called the CAM cycle, where they close their stomata during the day to prevent water loss and open them at night to fix carbon dioxide and release oxygen.[7] Temperature is not critical, the range being from 32 °C (90 °F) down to 10 °C (50 °F). They are sensitive to frost, except for the hardiest species, T. usneoides, which can tolerate night-time frosts down to about −10 °C (14 °F).[citation needed]


  1. ^ "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families". 
  2. ^ RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. ISBN 1405332964. 
  3. ^ Isley, Paul T. (2009). Tillandsia II : the world's most unusual airplants. Redondo Beach, Calif.: Botanical Press. ISBN 0981701019. 
  4. ^ "The Plant List". Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  5. ^ Tania Chew, Efraín De Luna & Dolores González (2010). "Phylogenetic relationships of the pseudobulbous Tillandsia species (Bromeliaceae) inferred from cladistic analyses of ITS 2, 5.8S ribosomal RNA gene, and ETS sequences" (PDF). Systematic Botany 35 (1): 86–95. doi:10.1600/036364410790862632. 
  6. ^ "Appendices I, II and III valid from 5 February 2015*". CITES. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  7. ^ David H. Benzing (2008). Vascular Epiphytes: General Biology and Related Biota. Cambridge University Press. p. 53. ISBN 9780521048958. 


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