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air plant or Spanish moss
Fille de l'air FR 2014.jpg
Tillandsia aeranthos
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Bromeliaceae
Subfamily: Tillandsioideae
Genus: Tillandsia

Over 600 species
see List of Tillandsia species

  • Acanthospora Spreng.
  • Allardtia A.Dietr.
  • Amalia Endl.
  • Anoplophytum Beer,
  • Bonapartea Ruiz & Pav.
  • Buonapartea G.Don
  • Dendropogon Raf.
  • Diaphoranthema Beer
  • Misandra F.Dietr., nom. illeg.
  • Phytarrhiza Vis.
  • Pityrophyllum Beer
  • Platystachys K.Koch
  • Racinaea M.A.Spencer & L.B.Sm.
  • ×Racindsia Takiz.
  • Renealmia L.
  • Strepsia Steud.
  • Viridantha Espejo
  • Wallisia (Regel) E.Morren

Tillandsia is a genus of some 730 species[2] of evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae, native to the forests, mountains and deserts of Central and South America, the southern United States and the West Indies.[3] Common names for Tillandsia include air plant, Ball moss (T. recurvata) and Spanish moss, the latter referring to T. usneoides in particular.[4]

Tillandsia recurvata and another Bromeliaceae species on electric wires near San Juan de los Morros, Venezuela
Flowering Tillandsia and daughter plant

The thinner-leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick-leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Tillandsia species are epiphytes (also called aerophytes or air plants) – i.e. they normally grow without soil while attached to other plants. Epiphytes are not parasitic, depending on the host only for support. Moisture and nutrients are gathered from the air (dust, decaying leaves and insect matter) through structures on the leaves called trichomes.[5]


The genus Tillandsia was named by Carolus Linnaeus after the Swedish physician and botanist Dr. Elias Tillandz (originally Tillander) (1640-1693).[6]


Tillandsia plants mounted on the bark of a cork oak. A pink Phalaenopsis orchid blooms to the right of it.

Tillandsia are epiphytes and need no soil because water and nutrients are absorbed through the leaves. The roots are used as anchors only. Reproduction is by seeds or by offsets called "pups". A single plant could have up to a dozen pups. Tillandsias love bright, indirect sunlight.

Indoor arrangement of six Tillandsia plants mounted on a log section.

Although not normally cultivated for their flowers, some Tillandsia will bloom on a regular basis. In addition, it is quite common for some species to take on a different leaf colour (usually changing from green to red) when about to flower. This is an indication that the plant is monocarpic (flowers once before dying) but offsets around the flowering plant will continue to thrive.[5][7] [8]



See List of Tillandsia species


Temperature is not critical, the range being from 32 °C (90 °F) down to 10 °C (50 °F). They are sensitive to frost, except for the hardiest species, T. usneoides, which can tolerate night-time frosts down to about −10 °C (14 °F). In some situations Tillandsia are often termed pioneer plants occupying environments, like rock cliffs, that few other plants can. They grow through a process called a CAM cycle, where they close the stomata during the day and open it at night to uptake carbon and release oxygen.[5]


Tillandsia is a primary ingredient in an herbal supplement to treat pollen allergies.[9][dubious ]


  1. ^ "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families". 
  2. ^ "The Plant List". Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  3. ^ RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 1405332964. 
  4. ^ Flora of North America, v 22, genus Tillandsia
  5. ^ a b c Gardner, C. S. 1982. Systematic Study of Tillandsia Subgenus Tillandsia. Ph.D. dissertation. Texas A&M University.
  6. ^ Linnaeus, Carl. 1753. Species Plantarum 286.
  7. ^ Gardner, C. S. 1984. New species and nomenclatural changes in Mexican Tillandsia---I. Selbyana 7: 361--379.
  8. ^ Luther, H. E. 1985. Notes on hybrid tillandsias in Florida. Phytologia 57: 175--176.
  9. ^ Tropical Plant Book