|Tillandsia is a genus of around 540 species
in the Bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae), found in the
forests, mountains, and deserts, of Central and South
America, and Mexico and the southern United States in North
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 plants mounted on the bark of a cork oak
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.
Indoor arrangement of six Tillandsia plants mounted on a log
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.
Tillandsia is a primary ingredient in an herbal
supplement to treat pollen allergies.