In the winter of 2011, I succumbed to the lure of the Tillandsia – aka. Air plants. There was something so irresistibly appealing about their quirky, fuzzy appearance, that I just had to have one.
Now my collection contains over 50 species including some hard-to-find hybrids. Here in temperate San Francisco they can live outside all year round – which is a good thing since there's not enough room in the house.
Tattoos and tillandsias... you can never have just one.
Tillandsias are a member of the Bomeliad family. There are over 540 unique species not including hybrids, and are only found in Mexico, Central & South America, and the very southern parts of the United States. The natural habitats of tillandsias are amazingly diverse, from tropical jungles to arid cloud forests and everywhere in between.
Contrary to popular belief, tillandsias can't live on air alone. Although classified as an epiphyte [meaning they grow on other plants instead of in soil] they still need water and nutrients or they'll eventually die.
While it's true most tillandsias can tolerate some abuse, if you want one to thrive [and bloom] you'll need to provide some basic care including water, monthly fertilizer, good air circulation, and light.
More or less, depending on the species.
An easy way to help identify habitat requirements of a Tillandsia is by looking at its leaves. Thin-leafed species favor wetter conditions, while the thick-leafed and fuzzy varieties come from regions prone to drought.
Tillandsias are definitely not for the impatient. Most species can take years to mature and even longer to bloom.
Tillandsia info & resources
When the Tillandsia cacticola goes into bloom, it's quite a sight to behold.
Last year, mine produced a spectacular 2 foot lavender spike tipped with tiny white and purple flowers that lasted over 3 months.
Tillandsia streptocarpa – Floral bracts
Tillandsia caput-medusae – Spent flower w/ stamens
Tillandsia tectorum – Floral bracts
Tillandsia mallemontii – Open seed capsule
Tillandsia tectorum – Post-bloom offsets