Tillandsia is a genus of around 650 species of evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the pineapple family Bromeliaceae. They are native to the forests, mountains and deserts of Central and South America, the southern United States and the West Indies. They have naturally been established in diverse environments such as equatorial tropical rain forests, high mountain elevations, rock dwelling regions, and swamplands. Air plant is a common name for plants in this genus. Most tillandsia species are epiphytes which normally grow without soil while attached to other plants. Some are aerophytes or true air plants, which have no roots and grow on shifting desert soil. Generally, the thinner-leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick-leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. In their natural environment, most species absorb moisture and nutrients through the leaves from rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter through disc-shaped leaf structures called trichomes.
Tillandsias are a natural choice for people who want a live plant that requires very little care. If you have them outside where they get some natural moisture and air flow, misting once a week is fine. If you are keeping them inside where the air is drier, they might require a light soaking under running water once a week.
They can be placed in any number of vessels from shells you find on the beach to just about any small shallow dish. You can also tie or glue them to a piece of driftwood from the beach and make a live arrangement. The hardest part about tillandsias is that with so many varieties to choose from, picking one or several will be the challenge. Enjoy.
This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel’s local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel Island, Florida.