Tillandsia disticha

Tillandsia, with 400 species, is the largest genus in the family Bromeliaceae. It was named by Linnaeus in honour of the Swedish botanist Elias Tillands (1640-). T. disticha grows as an epiphyte in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The undivided leaves are usually arranged in a rosette. They are often silvery grey because they are covered with numerous scales that absorb moisture and minute dust particles from the atmosphere. The water absorbed by the scales is passed on to the inner leaf tissues. During periods of drought, the scales are filled with air. They reflect the sun’s rays and so greatly reduce the evaporation of water. The illustrated Tillandsia puts out tillers and so soon forms clumps of plants. The leaves grow to a length of about 30 cm (12 inch) and are covered with greyish or brownish scales. The spikes of flowers are 4-6 cm long, 8 mm wide and greatly flattened. The sepals are only 8 mm the petals 15 mm (0.5 in) long.

It is usually grown as an epiphyte indoors, generally in a plant-case. It requires plenty of air and a high temperature. A temperature of 10°-15°C (50°-59°F) is sufficient in winter. From spring to autumn, mist the plant at least twice a day. Til-landsias are propagated either by sowing seeds directly on rough bark or by detaching daughter plants. T. disticha can be easily propagated by means of the tillers. The majority of species are grown as epiphytes.

Tillandsia filifolia

The specific name of this Tillandsia describes the thin, grey, thread-like leaves which are spread out to all sides. The colour is due to numerous scales. Small bulbs at the base of the plant serve as reservoirs of water. Each plant produces several flower spikes.

It requires a very humid atmosphere and does best on an epiphyte stump in a glassed enclosure.

Tillandsia cyanea

This species can be grown as a potted plant, a rarity among Tillandsias. It grows in the rain forests of Ecuador at elevations of 600-1,000 m (2,000-3,300 ft). It belongs to the group of ‘cistern’ Tillandsias that resemble Vriesias. The leaves, arranged in a rosette, form a funnel to catch rainwater that collects in the ‘cup’ at the base. Water is also absorbed through the numerous roots. The leaf rosette may be up to 40 cm (16 in) across. The leaf blades are only slightly scaly. The bracts of the inflorescence are green to pinkish red, the corollas blue-violet. It requires a light peaty soil, a small amount of which must be provided for the plant even if it is grown as an epiphyte on a branch.

Tillandsia plumosa

This plant is native to Mexico where it grows only north of Oaxaca. It is an epiphyte found at elevations as high as 3,000 m (9,800 ft). Because the numerous, outward-spreading scales on the leaves make them look as if they were feathered, this Tillandsia was given the specific name plumosa (Latin pluma = feather). The inflorescence extends beyond the leaves.

It requires a very sunny and light position, and only very little water.

Tillandsia usneoides

The species’ natural range of distribution extends from the southern USA through Central America to Argentina and Chile. In arid regions the plants are silvery grey; in regions with greater rainfall they are greenish. They grow on all sorts of objects – the branches of trees, telegraph poles, fences, walls, other plants and rocks. The long, trailing stems like tufts of hair do not in the least look as if they belonged to a bromeliad. The plant looks much more like a lichen of the genus Usnea (hence its specific name). It has no roots. The only rootlet appears during germination and then disappears, its function being to an chor the seed to the substrate. The weak stems, about 1 mm thick, may be extremely long; in their native habitats they may measure as much as 8 m (26 ft). Both the stems and the leaves are coloured silvery grey. The yellow-green flowers are borne singly on stems growing from the axils of the bracts. Propagate either from seed (less common) or by vegetative means. In their natural habitat vegetative reproduction is very easy for the plants are torn apart and carried to other places by the wind. T. usneoides is an aerophytic plant, that is, one that does not make roots but absorbs water from the air.

Tillandsia tectorum

This plant is quite common in southern Ecuador and central Peru, where it forms thick, spreading masses in the mountains, often between areas of rock. The specific name tectorum is Latin, meaning ‘of rooftops’ (in this case ‘of rocks’).

T. tectorum grows at the same altitude as cacti, so the same growing conditions are recommended for both house plants. It requires a light and sunny position. Water sparingly. Otherwise it is an absolutely undemanding plant; it need not even be put in compost.

Tillandsia ionantha

This species is native to Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. It grows at elevations as high as 1,300 m (4,300 ft). It forms large tufts or cushions of curving, awl-shaped leaves that turn red during the flowering period. The petals, up to 4 cm (1.5 in) long, are white tipped with violet-blue. This is a very variable species.

It requires a moist environment and lots of light and sun. In summer it may even be grown outdoors.

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