The plant genus Tillandsia (Bromeliad family) is found in the deserts, forests and mountains of central and south America, Mexico and the southern United States, growing on trees, rocks and cliffs. The thinner leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Nutrients are gathered from the air (dust, decaying leaves and insect matter) through structures on the leaves called trichomes. Tillandsias are epiphytes, i.e. in nature they normally grow on other plants, without being parasitic, and they grow without soil.
Reproduction is by offsets called pups. A single plant could have a dozen pups which can be removed and grown alone or left to form a colony.
Tillandsia makes an interesting houseplant, needing no soil because water and food is absorbed through the leaves. The roots are used as anchors only (being without root hairs through which nutrient could be taken in). They will flower occasionally but, as a houseplant, the blooms are not usually impressive. The common name of Tillandsia is Air Plant.
Indoor arrangement of six Tillandsia plants mounted on a log section.
The orange and green material is dyed sphagnum moss, ideal for adding colour to the pale green of the plants and for filling empty areas. The two ornaments add interest. The log section is 18 inches (46 cm) long.
Single Tillandsia plant, composed of parent plant and two offsets.
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CARE REQUIREMENTS AS A HOUSEPLANT
Grow indoors or in a greenhouse.
Place in indirect or diffused sunlight in summer (full summer sun will damage the leaves) but direct sun is acceptable in winter. If indoors, Tillandsia must be placed near a bright window (avoid a north-facing view). They prefer to be outdoors in summer.
Fresh, moving air is ideal.
For all watering, the first choice is rain water. If not available, use filtered tap water or tap water.
Soak the plants thoroughly twice a week; more often in a hot dry environment but do not keep the plants constantly wet, allow to dry between waterings.
Additionally, the plant will enjoy being sprayed once a day in summer. In autumn and winter spray three times a week. Spraying does not replace thorough soaking with a watering can or dipping entirely in water for, say, an hour.
Shake off excess water after soaking to avoid rot. Don't soak a plant while it is in flower (it is then more susceptible to rot). Tillandsias cannot survive in standing water (nor being planted in earth).
Temperature is not critical, the allowable range being from 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) down to 50 degrees F (10 degrees C).
Spray with Bromeliad or houseplant fertilizer, once every two weeks spring and summer and once every four weeks autumn and winter.
Dilute the feed to one quarter the recommended strength.
After flowering, the plant will grow offsets or "pups" around the mother plant. Leave these on if possible, as the plant will be heartier if left to form a colony.
Fixing plant to a base
Fix with silicone adhesive or a non-water soluble glue, on the lower leaves but try to avoid the base from which the roots grow. For a mount, try seashells, log sections, driftwood, coral, rocks, pottery, fountains or crystals. If desired, decorate the mount with sphagnum moss (dyed or natural green) and ornaments.