Tillandsia is a genus of around 650 species of evergreen, perennial, flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae, native to the forests, mountains, and deserts (source). Tillandsia, commonly known as air plants, are found throughout the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America.
The vast majority of Tillandsia species are epiphytic, meaning they grow on other plants or objects. However, they are not parasitical and do not derive their nutrients from the host plant. Instead, they rely on the rainfall and humidity in their environment to hydrate and nourish them.
Tillandsia can also grow lithophytically, which means on rocks or in gravel.
Here are some other interesting facts about where you might find Tillandsia growing in the wild:
Trichomes are a Leading Indicator of the Climate
Air plants have special cells called trichomes on their leaves. These wispy, hair-like structures help the plant absorb water and nutrients from the air. The density of trichomes on an air plant is determined by its environment.
For example, the Tillandsia magnusiana and Tillandsia exserta have especially fuzzy leaves, whereas the latter live in the Sonoran Desert, where precipitation and humidity are low. Conversely, Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss) that live in the southeastern United States have leaves with fewer trichomes because the air is more humid.
Some Tillandsias Grow on Rooftops!
The Tillandsia tectorum, also known as the roof air plant, is one of the most common species found growing on rooftops. This plant is indigenous to Peru and Ecuador.
This exceptionally fuzzy plant has adapted to its arid environment by growing on other plants or structures for support.
A Popular Bromeliad in South America
The Tillandsia cyanea is a species of air plant indigenous to Ecuador’s rain forests. This beautiful Bromeliad gets its common name, the pink quill plant, from its long, thin leaves paired with a beautiful pink flowering bloom.
One other noteworthy mention is the Tillandsia xerographica. Also known as xeros, this plant is native to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras (source). You can find the Tillandsia xerographica in various environments, from rocky cliffs to lowland rain forests, but most often, you’ll have to look up to find it perched atop a tree branch.
Mexico’s Favorite Bromeliad
The Tillandsia ionantha is a species of air plant native to Mexico. In particular, this air plant grows in the mountains and on rocky cliffs in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
It is one of the most popular air plants and is easily recognizable by its bright green leaves. When in bloom, the Tillandsia ionantha produces a beautiful purple flower. This plant is also known as the blushing bride or sky plant.
If You Visit Florida Your Sure to See This Tillandsia
Tillandsia usneoides is a species of Bromeliad that is native to Florida. Also known as Spanish Moss, this Tillandsia is often seen hanging from tree branches throughout Florida, particularly in the north and central regions.
While it is not a true moss, this plant gets its common name from its moss-like appearance. Spanish moss was used during the Civil War as rope and has even been used to manufacture mattresses, upholstery, and insulation.
Will tillandsias grow in my area?
Tillandsias are found throughout the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. If you try to plant a tillandsia in New York, the plant will not survive the winter. If the temperature remains below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period, the plant will start to die.
What is the best way to water my Tillandsia?
It all depends on the density of trichomes. If the plant has a lot of trichomes, it will need to be watered less often. However, if the plant has few trichomes, it will need to be watered more often.
Your best guide is to take notice of how your Tillandsia looks. If the leaves start to curl or turn brown, it’s time to water the plant.
How do air plants survive in the wild?
Air plants have a special type of leaf called a trichome. These wispy, hair-like structures help the plant absorb water and nutrients from the air. Air plants are often found in filtered sunlight or partial shade because too much sun can damage the leaves.
Do wild air plants produce seeds and pups?
Yes, air plants do produce seeds and pups. Pups are small clones of the parent plant that grow at the base of the plant. Many of the air plants you may buy in a store are actually pups that have been removed from the parent plant. Seeds are produced in a structure called an inflorescence. The seeds are very tiny and often need to be germinated to grow.
What kind of soil do air plants need?
Air plants do not need soil because they absorb all the nutrients and water they need from the air. Therefore, they do not grow in the ground in their natural habitat. Instead, they grow on rocks, trees, and other plants.
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.