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Bromeliads: Genus Tillandsia

Updated on July 11, 2016
Tillandsia araujei
Tillandsia araujei | Source
Tillandsia australis
Tillandsia australis

Plants of the genus Tillandsia in the plant family Bromeliaceae (bromeliads) are being raised by plant lovers everywhere. Hundreds of species are available from nurseries around the world. They are exhibited prominently in practically every botanical garden in the world. Despite all this introducing them to the general public has been slow. It probably is because the plant habits are not as showy as some of the other plants. However, the many unique inflorescences and flowers are without compare.

Tillandsia species can be found from southern United States (several species can be found in south Florida) through Mexico and Central America to Brazil and beyond in South America. As a group they are called air plants since they can get their water from rain and dew, and they can obtain nutrients from rain, airborne dust, and decaying organic matter.

Tillandsias are easy to grow as most of them require lower levels of light and can stand periods of drought. Many of them can be mounted on a board or on a limb in a tree or grown in osmunda. Some are terrestrial happily growing in the ground. They reproduce by producing pups (offshoots) as is common in the bromeliad family, and they can be raised easily through their seeds.

If this little introduction whets your appetite, you will want to know where you can go to get more information. On the Internet, there are several sites that have good information, but in order the get the most reliable information, you will have to go to books and papers written by authorities on the species. Below is a video that has some interesting information on the different kinds of species.

What Do Tillandsias Look Like

Tillandsias come in many forms from small "pin cushiony" forms to large vase-shaped habits; small un-showy inflorescences to long peduncles with many flowers; and flowers from minute and singular to medium-sized blades with dozens of flowers. Many Tillandsias have an abundance of trichomes covering the leaves almost completely; this gives the leaves and shaft a silvery coloration. Virtually all of them will grow on nearly any wooden surface and have small, strong root-like holdfasts attaching the plant to the wood.

Below are several examples of habits, inflorescences, and flowers.

Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias
Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias

There aren't many books on Tillandsias that are well written and that most of us can afford. However, this is a new book that covers most everything you might want to know about Tillandsias. I highly recommend it. You can get it as a kindle book so you can see the beautiful photos in full color on your computer or it also comes in book form.

Many tillandsias are covered with grayish trichomes (water absorbing structures)..
Many tillandsias are covered with grayish trichomes (water absorbing structures)..
A common habit: small thin, spindly  leaves.
A common habit: small thin, spindly leaves.
Left: Small clumping growth pattern with blade.  Right: A bulbous plant with blade.
Left: Small clumping growth pattern with blade. Right: A bulbous plant with blade.
Top: A view of the small (about 7 cm) Spanish Moss plant.  Bottom: A small plant with a small flower blade.
Top: A view of the small (about 7 cm) Spanish Moss plant. Bottom: A small plant with a small flower blade.
Leaves showing trichomes (water absorbing structures).
Leaves showing trichomes (water absorbing structures).
Left: Inflorescence with single flowers along shaft.  Middle: Pendent inflorescence.  Right: Upright inflorescence.
Left: Inflorescence with single flowers along shaft. Middle: Pendent inflorescence. Right: Upright inflorescence.
Top Left and Right: Flowers from a blade  Bottom Left: Small flower  Bottom Right: Minute flower of Spanish Moss
Top Left and Right: Flowers from a blade Bottom Left: Small flower Bottom Right: Minute flower of Spanish Moss
Beautiful small (about 6-7 cm) flowers.
Beautiful small (about 6-7 cm) flowers.

Taking care of Tillandsias

Tillandsia is the largest genus in the family, with 650 known species and more being discovered frequently. They are typically gray-leafed plants native to bright, semiarid habitats; most do not hold water in their centers. The culture described here is for these atmospheric types; for the soft-leafed tank types, follow the culture for Vriesea. Instead of symmetrical rosettes of leaves, some tillandsias have twisted, undulating, or curled leaves. Others have succulent leaves, or form hollow bulbous structures at the bases of the plants. Still others develop long, almost vine like stems. Much of the appeal of this genus is due to these strange growth forms.

Read more here-->

How do you culture Tillandsias?

The term 'Air Plants' is the common name for bromeliad species belonging to the Tillandsia genus. Tillandsias comprise the largest number of species within the Bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae) and also span the widest range of territory. From the southern USA to Central America and throughout South America, over 500 species of Tillandsia grow in a wide variety of habitats. In the wild, Tillandsias can be found at altitudes ranging from sea level to mountainous terrain; in environments as diverse as steamy jungles, hot arid deserts, cool cloud forests and high mountain ridges. The majority of Tillandsia species are epiphytes, a term applied to plants that cling to objects such as rocks and trees. Epiphytes absorb moisture and nutrients through their foliage and the roots are used primarily to provide support for the plant. This is why the root structure of epiphytic plants is usually smaller than that of terrestrial plants which depend upon roots for nutrient absorption as well as stability. Epiphytes are not parasites, as host plants and trees merely provide support, not sustenance.

Read more here-->

How to Grow Tillandsias from Seed

The genus Tillandsia has an undeserved reputation for being difficult to grow from seed. In fact, tillandsias are among the easiest plants in the world to grow. Most species also have a reputation for being very slow. Some are, but under generous cultural conditions many of the popular species can be grown to maturity in five years or less. This article describes tillandsia propagation from sowing of seed to maturity.

It is not always possible to tell if tillandsia seed is viable. In many species the seed begins to germinate before the capsule splits, indicated by a little green nubbin at the end of the coma (the tuft of hairs that carry the seed on the wind). In other species the seed looks brown and lifeless. It may still be good, so sow it.

Sow Tillandsia seed as soon as possible; it remains viable for only a few weeks under normal environmental conditions. It may be possible to freeze extra seed but I have not yet tried this experiment. Refrigerated seed keeps for at least a few months.

Read more here-->

Tillandsia: The World's Most Unusual Airplants
Tillandsia: The World's Most Unusual Airplants

For the most motivated tillandsia lover, there are two books that are the epitome of excellence. These two books really do address everything a person would want to know about tillandsias. You might be lucky and find used ones at a little cheaper price, but not much. The books are not published as Kindle books so they only available as hardbacks, and there wasn't a large number printed.


Bromeliad Societies

Groups of bromeliad lovers are found over the world. All of them can give you information on Tillandsias, and you might want to join them. Most of them have meetings once a month where they have a lecture, share and trade bromeliads, and have great fellowship in the name of bromeliads.

  • Bromeliad Society International
    This is the major group of bromeliad growers. The information on this site can be trusted as the latest and best research available. Their Mission Statement states: "The purposes of this society are to promote and maintain public and scientific interest in the research, development, preservation, and distribution of bromeliads, both natural and hybrid, throughout the world."

  • There are local societies over the world, and each of them can provide information on tillandsias. Go to to find one near you.

Books That Might Interest You

  • Native Florida Bromeliads

    by Harry E. Luther and David H. Benzing

    From the Dust Jacket: "Sometime around 50 to 60 million years ago, an obscure group of primitive plants that probably resided in what is today northern South America began to evolve to become what botanists recognize as family Bromeliaceae. Many of the bromeliads--along with members of some 75 other families, including the orchids--acquired the means to root on bark rather than in the ground. Growing epiphytically presents special challenges, for which the bromeliads have evolved quite unique solutions. This book not only profiles all of Florida's bromeliads, but also describes how they manage to subsist on larger woody hosts without operating as parasites . . . ."

    Every bromeliad lover, especially those raising tillandsias as many of Florida bromeliads are tillandsias, will want to have this book in their library. It professionally discusses every bromeliad species--forms, varieties, and subspecies--found in Florida.

Buying Plants on Ebay

You can obtain Tillandsias from many sources, but it probably is easiest to get them from eBay. You need to be careful if you want a specific species or cultivar as many growers just give them a name in order to sell them. And, if they do give them a species name, it might not be correct. However, if you want the pictured plant, what difference does it make. Go ahead and buy it. If you want to know you are getting a specific species of cultivar, buy from one of the reputable bromeliad dealers shown below. Click below to go to one Ebay example and you can search for others from there.


I would be happy to hear from you about your experiences with tillandsias. Also, feel free to email me at


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