If you’re looking for a beautiful and unique houseplant, you may be wondering if Tillandsia or bromeliads are the right choice for you.
But are they really different?
This article will explain how Tillandsia and bromeliads relate to each other and their key differences.
Plantae Kingdom Overview
To understand how bromeliads and tillandsias fit into the plant world, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the Plantae kingdom.
The Plantae kingdom is made up of all known plants, including mosses, ferns, conifers, and flowering plants.
To provide order, scientists have divided the Plantae kingdom into smaller groups which include the following: phylum, class, order, family, genus, and finally, species.
Each group within this order carries certain similarities, which helps taxonomists (scientists who study plant classification) determine where each plant should be placed.
For example, all plants in the genus Tillandsia share certain characteristics, such as epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants).
In total, scientists estimate that there are 250,000 species of plants in the Plantae kingdom.
What are Bromeliads?
Bromeliads are a family of plants that includes over 75 genera and 3,590 species (source). As you can see in the image above, all tillandsias are bromeliads, but not all bromeliads are tillandsias.
Notable bromeliads include Ananas (pineapple), Guzmania, and Tillandsia.
Here’s a list of all the genera within the bromeliad family:
|× Aechopsis||Eduandrea||× Neophytum|
How do Bromeliads Grow?
Bromeliads can either be epiphytic (meaning they grow on other plants), terrestrial (meaning they grow in the ground), or saxicolous (meaning they grow on rocks).
Tillandsia, or air plants, are a type of epiphytic bromeliad.
Where do Bromeliads Grow?
Most bromeliads are found in tropical and subtropical areas, including Central America, South America, southern North America, and the Caribbean.
How do Bromeliads Get Water?
It varies from one genus to another, but bromeliads are generally known for their “tank” leaves. These tank leaves are modified leaves with specialized cells that can hold water.
The water that bromeliads store in their tank leaves provides humidity to the plant and serves as a nutrition source (bromeliads absorb nutrients through their leaves).
Tillandsia, however, doesn’t have tank leaves. Instead, they have specialized trichomes (tiny hair-like structures) on their leaves that help them to absorb moisture and nutrients from the air.
What do Bromeliads Eat?
Bromeliads are not very demanding when it comes to nutrition. In the wild, they get most of the nutrients they need from the air, rainwater, decomposing leaves, and other organic matter.
What are Tillandsias?
Tillandsias are a genus of around 650 species within the bromeliad family. They’re often called “air plants” because they don’t need soil to grow – they can get all the nutrients and moisture they need from the air.
How do Tillandsias Get Water?
What makes tillandsias such a unique genus within the entire plant kingdom is their ability to absorb water and nutrients through their leaves.
This process is made possible by the thousands of tiny trichomes (hair-like structures) that cover the surface of tillandsia leaves.
The trichomes help the plant to absorb water and nutrients from the air. Depending on the natural habitat of Tillandsia, they may have more or fewer trichomes. For example, Tillandsias that come from dry environments have adapted and contain more trichomes to help them absorb more water.
On the flipside, tillandsias that come from more humid environments have fewer trichomes because they don’t need to absorb as much water from the air.
Where do Tillandsias Grow?
Tillandsias are found in different habitats, from tropical rainforests to deserts. They’re especially common in Central and South America but can also be found in the southern United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
The most popular Tillandsia is probably Tillandsia xerographica, which is often used in decorative displays and as a houseplant.
Other popular tillandsias include:
- Tillandsia cyanea (also known as the pink quill plant or bluebell Tillandsia)
- Tillandsia usneoides (also known as Spanish moss or old man’s beard)
- Tillandsia ionantha (also known as the sky plant or flaming Katy)
What do Tillandsias Eat?
Tillandsias are not very demanding when it comes to nutrition. In the wild, they get most of the nutrients they need from the air and rainwater.
How do Tillandsias Propagate?
Tillandsias can be propagated by seeds, offsets, or division.
Offsets or pups are baby tillandsias that grow at the base of the mother plant. They are genetically identical to the mother plant and can be removed and replanted to create a new plant.
Tillandsias can also be propagated by division, simply splitting a mature plant into two or more pieces. Each piece should have at least one healthy root system.
Finally, tillandsias can be propagated by seeds, although this is not the most common method.
Bromeliads vs. Tillandsias
So, what’s the difference between bromeliads and tillandsias?
Bromeliads are a wide plant family that contains over 3,500 species, while tillandsias are just one genus within that family. How you care for a bromeliad will depend on the specific species you have, but most bromeliads need some soil to grow in and generally prefer brighter conditions than tillandsias.
On the other hand, Tillandsias don’t need any soil and can get all the nutrients and moisture they need from the air. Generally, tillandsias are easier to care for than bromeliads because they’re not as picky about their growing conditions.
Samantha Taylor is the Senior Editor of airplantcentral.com. Her love for plants goes back to her childhood when she spent hours in the garden with her dear grandfather. As an aspiring botanist, she started her own business specializing in air plants.