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Tillandsias or "Air Plants" are an unusual group of plants, as they take in nutrients through their leaves and not their roots. As a result, they are epiphytic (growing on trees or cacti) or saxicolous (growing on rocks) and do not need soil to grow in (although a few species prefer to be potted rather than left hanging!)
They are plants of the 'New World', occurring from the south of the USA, through Mexico and Central America, and into South America. In the wild, they are found in a range of habitats from coastal desert, through forests and high up into more mountainous areas. They also an tolerate a range of temperatures, although they are not, as a rule, frost tolerant.
Air Plants are part of the Bromeliad (Bromeliaceae) Family and belong to the Genus Tillandsia. There are well over 500 species of Tillandsia that naturally occur, and a growing number of hybrids and cultivars which have been man made.
There are a number of features which seem to make the plants attractive to collectors:
  • Firstly the plants themselves are quite variable in form.
  • Many are relatively small and require little space. 
  • Not requiring soil, they can be mounted on wood, sea shells, rocks, in glass terraniums etc to form quite artistic and abstract pieces for display.
  • They are relatively easy to maintain and can be neglected (within reason).
  • The flowers form on an inflorescence which is often quite unique and colourful in its own right.
Tillandsias propagate through two methods:
  • As mentioned above, they do flower (see Gallery page for photos), and it is the flowering that I certainly look forward to. The flowers do turn to seed. Some species self-pollinate whilst others are pollinated by hummingbirds, moths, butterflies, bees, and even bats. Growing tillandsias from seed is a long and patient process.
  • Tillandsias also propagate by producing baby tillandsias (called pups), which develop on the plant after flowering. The pups will develop into new plants, genetically identical to the parent plant. Pups can be separated from the parent plant when they reach a manageable size, or left on the parent plant to form bigger clumps. The original parent plant will eventually die back after pupping.
DISCLAIMER - Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information contained herein is factually correct, the author can take no responsibility for unexpected outcomes.
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