The genus Tillandsia belongs to the Bromeliad family (Bromeliaceae) and is by far the largest among the pineapple plants with more than 550 species. Tillandsias are at home throughout South America and inhabit a wide variety of tropical and subtropical habitats from rainforests to high steppes (over 4,000 metres) and the Atacama Desert. Attention: Since some species have already disappeared for export due to the mass removal of plants from nature, you should make sure to buy only breeding specimens!
Appearance and growth
Most tillandsias grow as epiphytes on trees, rocks and cacti. They only develop adhesive roots, but no fine roots. These so-called grey or white tillandsias absorb water and nutrients exclusively from air (dust) and rain via their silvery sucking scales on the leaves. Some species form collecting funnels for water with their leaves. Some Tillandsias (Green Tillandsias) also have their roots in the soil. The narrow leaves usually form a rosette, more rarely the leaves of the Tillandsie are branched and arranged spirally. Tillandsie flowers from February to October, depending on the species. In the case of the tillandsia flower, it is the brightly coloured, long-lasting bracts on which the flowers form that catch the eye. Till the first flowering of Tillandsien can take several years.
Location and substrate
Grey tillandsias should preferably be very bright and sunny. Since the exotics are used to cool night temperatures even in their home country, some species can spend the summer outdoors in this country as well. To do this, choose a semi-shaded, wind-free place, for example the canopy of a tree, along a wall or on a trellis. Green tillandsias like it light, warm and very humid, but don’t have to stand directly at the window. Attention: The temperature must not drop below 15 to 18 degrees Celsius! Grey tillandsias are kept at 10 to 15 degrees Celsius in winter, green tillandsias as well as in summer.
Epiphytic tillandsias do not need a substrate, but only an object they can hold on to, such as pieces of wood or bark, low-calcification stones, shells or a simple wire. To support rooting, the plants are bound or glued to the object. Attention: Do not use hot glue when sticking, as this will damage the plant! Clear silicone from the building materials trade or superglue are better suited. If you don’t want to stick, but bind, the best way is to use thin strips of nylon tights. The fabric is rot-proof, elastic and almost invisible. If the Tillandsie has found support after some time, you can remove the “garter” again. Different grey tillandsias with the same location requirements can thus be combined into charming arrangements. For soil-rooting tillandsias, a mixture of peat moss, bark and coarse sand, similar to orchid soil, is suitable for planting.
Grey tillandsias should be sprayed daily with low lime (softened) water. Carbonated mineral water is also recommended. In winter, reduce spraying to two to three times a week. If you don’t want to spray, you can treat the Tillandsias to an immersion bath once a week. If moisture hits the leaf of the grey Tillandsie, it turns green. The drier the plant, the whiter it becomes. From April onwards, a little liquid fertilizer for orchids is mixed once a month into the spray water. Green tillandsias require high humidity, so you should always keep them slightly moist. The substrate of the Green Tillandsias should not dry out. Once a month they also receive half a concentration of flower fertilizer. Green tillandsias are repotted about every three years.
Important species and varieties
Grey Tillandsias: Tillandsia aeranthos (“Air Flower”) is the classic among the Grey Tillandsias. It becomes about 15 centimeters wide and has silvery, pointed leaves. Its large flower appears in dark purple to red.
Tillandsia fuchsii has narrower and more pointed leaves than Tillandsia aeranthos. Its tubular flowers appear between June and August on long red bracts.
Tillandsia usneoides, also known as “Spanish moss”, grows similar to a beard lichen. Their thin, long shoots hang down from the trees like long, dense hair. The blossom is rather inconspicuous.
Green Tillandsias: The striking inflorescence of Tillandsia cyanea is densely covered with pink and violet bracts, between which large red and violet-blue flowers appear one after the other. It is one of the most popular potted tillandsias.
Tillandsia lindenii has long, curved stem leaves with reddish brown stripes and in autumn forms dark blue flowers on long, rose-red bracts.
Tillandsia flabellata grows up to 25 centimeters high and shows red tubular flowers between February and March.
Tillandsias are propagated by offshoots, so-called “childel”, which the plant itself forms. These are simply separated from the mother plant (preferably torn or broken) and, depending on the species, are attached to new ground or placed in sandy soil. The mother plant usually shrinks after the formation of cuttings.
Diseases and pests
Occasionally, Tillandsias are attacked by aphids. The best way to combat this is to wash the plant thoroughly. If the Tillandsia is too moist, rot can occur.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.