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Tillandsia fasciculata.jpg
Tillandsia fasciculata
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Bromeliaceae
Subfamily: Tillandsioideae
Genus: Tillandsia

Over 650 species

  • Acanthospora Spreng.
  • Allardtia A
  • 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 ionantha with bright-coloured foliage during full bloom. Some foliage have a light, silver dusting which can be easily scratched off.
Tillandsia ionantha in a decorative pot.
Tillandsia schiedeana - MHNT

Tillandsia is a genus of around 650 species of evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae, native to the forests, mountains and deserts of northern Mexico and south-eastern United States, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean to mid Argentina.[2] They have naturally been established in diverse environments such as equatorial tropical rain forests, high elevation Andes mountains, rock dwelling (saxicolous) regions, and Louisiana swamps, such as Spanish Moss (T. usneoides), a species that grows atop tree limbs. Airplant is a common name for plants in this genus.[3] Most Tillandsia species are epiphytes – which translates to 'upon a plant'[4]. Some are aerophytes or air plants, which have a minimal root system and grow on shifting desert soil.[5] Generally, the thinner-leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick-leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Most species absorb moisture and nutrients through the leaves from rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter, aided by structures called trichomes.


The species under the Tillandsia genera exhibit a multitude of physiological and morphological differences making this genus an excellent example of diversity. Having native habitats that vary from being epiphytic and saxicolous, species have certain adaptations, such as root systems designed to anchor to other plants or substrates, and modified trichomes for water and nutrient intake.[6] Leaf rosettes, which is a common physical characteristic in Tillandsia species, function as a source of nutrients, water, and as a water and humus-gathering organ. Floral characteristics typically involve bright, vibrant colours, with either blooms or inflorescence being produced on a stalk. The colour varies between red, yellow, purple and pink, which helps attract pollinators. These colour variations can also occur on the air plants' foliage during its blooming season. Common pollinators of this genera include moths, hummingbirds and, more recently recognized, bats.[7]

Tillandsia stricta

Air plants are growing rapidly in popularity as a low maintenance household plant. Due to their minimal root system and other adaptations, they generally do not require frequent watering, no more than four times a week, allowing the plant to completely dry before watering again. The amount of light required depends on the species; overall, air plants with silver dusting and stiff foliage will require more sunlight than air plants with softer foliage.[8] Plants are commonly seen mounted, placed in a terrarium, or simply placed in seashells as decorative pieces.

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


The genus Tillandsia was named by Carl Linnaeus after the Swedish physician and botanist Dr. Elias Tillandz (originally Tillander) (1640–1693). Some common types of Tillandsia include air plant, ball moss (T. recurvata) and Spanish moss, the latter referring to T. usneoides in particular. The genus contains around 650 species, where 635 are considered epiphytic[9] are traditionally divided into seven subgenera:[10]


Species of Tillandsia photosynthesize through a process called CAM cycle, where they close their stomata during the day to prevent water loss and open them at night to fix carbon dioxide and release oxygen.[12] This allows them to preserve water, necessary because they are epiphytes. They do not have a functional root system and instead absorb water in small amounts through their leaves via small structures called trichomes. Species of Tillandsia also absorb their nutrients from debris and dust in the air.[13] Any root system found on Tillandsia has grown to act as a fragile stabilizing scaffold to grip the surface they grow on.[14] Temperature is not critical, the range being from 32 °C (90 °F) down to 10 °C (50 °F). Frost hardiness depends on the species. T. usneoides, for example, can tolerate night-time frosts down to about −10 °C (14 °F).[citation needed]


  1. ^ "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families". 
  2. ^ Mendoza, C., Granados-Aguilar, X., Donadío, S., Salazar, G., Flores-Cruz, M., Hágsater, E., Starr, J., Ibarra-Manríquez, G., Fragoso-Martínez, I., Magallón, S. March 2017. Geographic structure in two highly diverse lineages of Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae).
  3. ^ "Tillandsia". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 10 December 2015. 
  4. ^ Benzing, D. 2012. Air Plants: Epiphytes and Aerial Gardens. Ithaca: Comstock Publishing Associates.
  5. ^ Galán de Mera, A., M. A. Hagen & J. A. Vicente Orellana (1999) Aerophyte, a New Life Form in Raunkiaer's Classification? Journal of Vegetation Science 10 (1): 65-68
  6. ^ Mendoza, C., Granados-Aguilar, X., Donadío, S., Salazar, G., Flores-Cruz, M., Hágsater, E., Starr, J., Ibarra-Manríquez, G., Fragoso-Martínez, I., Magallón, S. March 2017. Geographic structure in two highly diverse lineages of Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae).
  7. ^ Aguilar-Rodríguez, P., Macswiney, C., Krömer, T., García-Franco, J., Knauer, A., Kessler, M. March 2014. First record of bat-pollination in the species-rich genus Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae). Annals of Botany. Vol. 113(6) pp. 1047-1055.
  8. ^ Instructions: Care for Air Plants (Tillandsia). Wedgewood Gardens. Available from: http://www.wedgewoodgardens.com/Care_Sheet_-_Air_Plants.pdf
  9. ^ Mendoza, C., Granados-Aguilar, X., Donadío, S., Salazar, G., Flores-Cruz, M., Hágsater, E., Starr, J., Ibarra-Manríquez, G., Fragoso-Martínez, I., Magallón, S. March 2017. Geographic structure in two highly diverse lineages of Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae).
  10. ^ Tania Chew, Efraín De Luna & Dolores González (2010). "Phylogenetic relationships of the pseudobulbous Tillandsia species (Bromeliaceae) inferred from cladistic analyses of ITS 2, 5.8S ribosomal RNA gene, and ETS sequences" (PDF). Systematic Botany. 35 (1): 86–95. doi:10.1600/036364410790862632. Archived from the original on March 23, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Appendices I, II and III valid from 5 February 2015*". CITES. Retrieved 23 February 2015. 
  12. ^ David H. Benzing (2008). Vascular Epiphytes: General Biology and Related Biota. Cambridge University Press. p. 53. ISBN 9780521048958. 
  13. ^ Benzing, David H.; Burt, Kathleen M. (1970). "Foliar Permeability Among Twenty Species of the Bromeliaceae". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 97 (5): 269–279. doi:10.2307/2483646. 
  14. ^ Benzing, David H.; Dahle, Christopher E. (1971). "The Vegetative Morphology, Habitat Preference and Water Balance Mechanisms of the Bromeliad Tillandsia ionantha Planch". The American Midland Naturalist. 85 (1): 11–21. doi:10.2307/2423907. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Tillandsia at Wikimedia Commons