Tillandsia Chiapensis, One has bloomed over 3 months ago and has 3 pups growing nicely. The other has yet to bloom the purple flowers. Both still sport the pretty pink scape.
For more generalized care of each species see glossary.
Tillandsias are among Gods greatest art work. One of the most exotic plants in the orchid and bromeliad family, these beauties need no dirt to grow. You just tie with wire (no copper), fishing line or string or glue them to a piece of wood (no salt water drift wood) give them plenty of bright light (no direct sun on many of them) and air circulation and water lightly a couple of times a week in winter, more in summer and they will bloom and produce pups (baby plants) for you for many years. The roots will eventually attach themselves to the wood, anchoring the plant permanently. As soon as they bloom and reproduce, they start to slowly die off leaving the babies room to have their turn.
The Tillandsia is an epiphytic (able to grow without soil) genus comprising over 400 recognized species. They vary greatly in size, (3 cm. or 4 cm. to 5 meters tall), shape (curled, rosette, bulbous, cupped, stemmed, etc.) and texture (soft and hairy to stiff and green).
Beautiful flowers are another remarkable feature of these plants. The intensity and richness of the purples, reds, pink, yellows, and greens is truly something to behold. Flowers or inflorescence will last 2 to 3 weeks to 1 to 2 months. Some species may last as long as a year.
During or after blooming, Tillandsias produce anywhere from one to a dozen baby plants called offsets, offshoots, or pups. Pups gradually grow to adult size in one to four years, while the parent plant gradually dies over the space of a generation or two.
Plants bloom when mature, given sufficient light, air circulation, temperature, and moisture. These conditions are possible indoors by using ceiling fan, grow lights or a bright window with indirect light, and a tray of pebbles filled with water for moisture. Make sure plants do not sit directly in water or they may rot. Also misting every 1 to 2 days is beneficial to growth. Submerging in water for up to 24 hours will restore a neglected plant, but if your having to do this too often then chances are your not giving it the proper conditions it needs.
Of course keeping plants outdoors is best and little care is needed. By placing plant out of direct sun, such as under a large tree where rays peek through branches is ideal to make plant grow healthy and bloom. A tree also protects plants from rain or wind damage. They look beautiful hanging on a fence or wall of patio. A light spray with a water hose every other day on dry days is enough moisture for healthy growth, but most can tolerate weeks of neglect. The best way to tell if plant is not getting enough moisture, is when leaves start to curl or create a channel the length of the leaf. As a general rule of thumb, the greener, softer-leaved plants require less sun and more moisture and tend to thrive in cool environments, a shaded porch , patio or a south facing wall with an over hang of eaves for shade are ideal areas. The grayer, stiffer leaved species prefer more light and less moisture and usually prefer warmer areas, some early morning sun mottled by the leaves of a tree is ideal, but watch for burn marks, this will indicate too much sun.. Tillandsias love warm moist air but can tolerate temperatures to 45 degrees as long as there is no frost present.
Fertilizing Tillandsias during the warm months will produce much larger, more robust plants when combined with good light and frequent, thorough watering. Plants should be fertilized on a consistent schedule. A very dilute amount every time you water or mist is ideal. But every week or two with a stronger solution is fine. I have used a product called epiphyte's delight made especially for tillandsias with 17-9-26, but you can use any good orchid food, rapid grow etc. Just make sure you dilute it well.
A strong and healthy plant may be artificially induced to bloom by placing it in a plastic bag with a piece of ripe apple for a couple of days. The ethylene gas from the apple will do the trick in 6 to 14 weeks depending on the species. There is also a product on the market sold mainly to nurseries called Florel, many nurseries use this product to force blooms but I don't recommend using it, it cuts down on the plants life expectancy and reduces the amount of pupping if it even pups. If plant is allowed to complete its life cycle naturally, the blooms tend to last longer. Be careful that the plants you buy from some nurseries do not force the blooms on your plants, they sometimes do this to make the plant look better and to cause you to come back for another of the same because yours died too early and didn't have any pups. Not all nurseries are this unscrupulous but there are a few out there.
Usually after blooming come the pups, but some plants will reproduce before then. Pups can be left attached to parent plant, eventually forming an attractive clump, or they can be separated and attached to something else to grow singly. I like to slowly work them loose over a period of time. If you choose to separate the plants, wait until the pups are half the parent size or more, using a sharp knife at the point of attachment. Keep the wound clean and let it dry for a day or two, to allow roots to attach to mounting material, it must be rough or filled with crevices. The plant can be glued, wired, pinned, or tied with fishing line or string.
Mounting or hanging tillandsias is very easy. If your mounting for a show or craft sale, you can use hot glue (cooled to touch but still tacky) or liquid nail to attach the plant, and now there is a new product called E-6000 made especially for tillandsia and bromeliad mounting. Try to get the roots and base of stem only in the glue as older leaves will die off detaching from the plant and it will eventually come loose. For mounting or hanging around your home its best to use fishing line, waxed thread or string or wire (no copper). Make sure air can circulate around the entire plant so it does not stay wet too long when its watered. You will want to tie the plant loosely to allow for leaf expansion and growth and also any emerging pups. You can use just about anything to mount on, Grape wood, Driftwood, Manzanita, Seashells, Coral, Lava Rock, Crystals, Etc. Just be sure your plants all go together, like low light high moisture or high light low moisture. Many nurseries have sold woodscapes with plants that do not do well together just because they look pretty. BIG MISTAKE. If you cant decide which plants to arrange together, I will be happy to suggest an arrangement based on your likes such as flowers, colors, conditions where they will grow and sizes.
Some very cute ides for displaying your plant are baskets, clay or decorator pots, grapevine wreaths, fallen tree branches with interesting twisted shapes, driftwood (no salt water) seashells and an idea from a customer that I thought was very cute, group a few on the side of a straw hat to hang on a door or wall or even wear the hat, use thread to attach it and after the bloom is spent change for another. The possibilities are endless and take just a little imagination. Just make sure you allow plant to dry before returning it to a pot, shell or basket that does not get any air to the part sitting inside. I had a tree rose that died and the branches were left intact, I added a bunch of ionanthas to each branch and it was very pretty when they all bloomed. CAUTION: Many people like to use Cholla wood which is a dried cactus tree having many holes in it, this is fine and looks nice but please don't stick the base of the tillandsia into the holes, and be careful when watering as this dead cactus material will absorb water and stay damp for a long time causing your plant to rot. If you do choose to mount on this wood, make sure you have it situated in a place that gets adequate air flow allowing the wood to dry also. Same rule applies when using sea shells and moss to cover the roots.
It is important to maintain Tillandsias properly--the key factors are Light, Water, and Air Circulation.
Full spectrum artificial light (fluorescent) is best. Plant should be no further than 36" from the fluorescent tubes and
can be as close as 6". A four-tube 48" fixture works well. Bulbs can be any full spectrum type
Gro-Repta-Sun, Vita-Lite, etc.
Light should be set with a timer, 12 hours per day. You can also place a
plant near a bright indirect lighted window. I have some placed in a kitchen
window that receives full morning sun for sunrise till about 9am., the rest of
the day it is just medium light.
Use the most convenient method. i.e. garden hose, Hudson sprayer, Submersing in a bucket of water even dunking
in your pond. Wet plants every other day or every day. My indoor growing plants get
watered daily with a misting bottle, until the water is dripping off. Indoor
conditions are usually so dry because of central air and heat that it pulls all
of the moisture out of the air.
Following each watering, Tillandsias should be given enough light and air circulation to dry in 4 hours or less. Do not keep plants constantly wet or moist. For plants growing inside of shells, pots ect. shake them after watering and set plant aside to dry, do not expect the plant to dry inside of a container where no air reaches. For stiffer leaved species mounted or hanging, these do not absorb or release water very well and the longer the water sits the better chances of rot, mount at an angle or shake gently after watering.
When trimming dead leaves never pull them off but clip them with scissors close to base of plant. Leaving dead leaves on a plant can cause rot at the base by holding moisture close to the plant.
Hanging plants by fishing line is best. It will not rot like string and gives excellent air circulation around the entire plant. Remember this added air circulation will cause a plant to dry quicker and those species that need plenty of water and moisture should be watched for dehydration, water them more often.
Never handle wet succulent plants like kolbii, ionantha etc. The leaves tend to come off easily.
Bulbous base plants such as caput-medusae, butzii, balbisiana, bulbosa, paucifolia, pruinosa and pseudobaileyi can easily get water trapped inside the base causing rot from the inside before you ever notice it. These plants should be mounted or hung at an angle or even upside down.
Trichomes, those tiny little white hairs on a tillandsia, will suffocate a plant if left wet for too long. They starve for oxygen. Giving a plant good air flow, or circulation, will help it dry faster after watering, so the trichomes can 'breath' again
When watering plants, a good rule of thumb is temperatures of 100+ water at least daily, 90+ every other day, 80+ about 2 to 4 times a week, 70+ 2 or 3 times a week. These are especially true in very dry regions that have no humidity. When watering, soak the entire plant but make sure the air circulation is sufficient to dry them within 4 hours. Plants mounted on wood might stay wet longer in the area that touches the wood, keep a close eye on these.
Tillandsia like slightly acidic water. High acidic water will cause an ugly white mineral build up on the leaves. If your city water is high pH of 8.0 or more you can lower it using a little vinegar in the water if you soak or use a spray bottle. Ideal is 6.0 and you can use a pH test kit found at any pool supply or aquarium shop. Some people even go to extremes using bottled water but this is mainly for show plants and not very practical for the average grower.
Some species can be grown in soil and do much better for it such as t. cyanea, t. fasciculata. and t. flabelleta The soil should be a fast draining type and should not be left wet for too long nor dry. They also benefit from wrapping the roots with moss to help hold in moisture if you do not prefer soil.
Hanging plants in protected areas such as under eaves of a house will protect from too much rain which can cause rot if rain continues for more than a day and no sun is available to help them to dry. I prefer to water my plants with a hose rather than chance leaving them exposed to rainy seasons.
Those cute little shells, buckets, planters are great for
displaying temporarily, but very impractical for long term mounting. Tillandsia
need good air flow around the entire plant and if you set them in these displays
you need to remove them when watering and allow them to completely dry before
returning them. The only exceptions to this are with tillandsia that like
to grow in soil or have their roots wrapped with moss, like cyanea or
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I am often asked which plants are best to grow in certain areas of the United States, I always say ALL OF THEM. Many people don't realize that a tillandsia will grow anywhere you put it as long as you give it the proper conditions that it likes. For example, if you live in a very hot and dry climate, and your favorite species is the bulbosa, you will only need to keep it in a low light area, indoors if you like or outdoors in a cool corner of a porch or padio where no sun rays reach it. you will also need to water it daily, maybe twice a day in summer. Bulbosa likes moist conditions and low light levels and they thrive here in Louisiana but they can also grow very nicely in New Mexico or New York City. Or if your favorite plant is the fragrant diaguitensis which likes dry conditions and quite a bit of sunlight directly on its leaves, but you live in, say Louisiana hehe, you will just water it less often because it will pick up its moisture from the humid conditions of the air. Even though I personally like to water mine at least every other day, the heat here also dries them quickly and these plants really do thrive on plenty of water. Even indoor growing of a sun lover can be accomplished with grow lights and a fan. So go ahead and buy the ones you like most and dont worry about whether or not your area will support it's needs. The only exception to this is the species that grow at very high altitudes, some areas of the U.S., Louisiana and its flat lands for instance, will not easily support these plants, I'm not real sure of this but I believe it is because at high altitudes the air is cooler and thinner and only certain species will grow there that wont grow here. I sure would like to know if this is true or not
Another frequently asked question is Why are the roots dieing? Tillandsia roots are not life supporting but are used only to attach themselves to their host. Once they attach firmly these roots will die and depending on the species new ones will grow to help support the additional weight of any pups it will have. Tillandsia absorb water and nutrients from their leaves not the roots. You wont kill a plant even if you cut the roots entirely off.
Why are my leaves coming off in the center? Uh Oh, this is usually caused by rot. A fungus forms in the center of the plant when it doesn't receive enough air flow to dry properly after it's watered, this fungus will spread to all the leaves if not caught in time and is some species like the tricolor, it may already be too late once its noticed. The ionantha is a semi succulent species that absorbs water quickly and with it's tightly fitted leaves the moisture gets trapped and the fungus kills off these leaves, if caught in time, you can remove the center leaves that come away with a gentle tug, don't pull, after all the easily removed leaves are gone, if there is still firmly held leaves you can save this plant and possible have pups but don't look for it to flower.
Why are leaves or tips of plants turning brown? This is caused by either too much heat or direct sunlight or not enough water. WATER WATER WATER! That's my motto as long as there is good air circulation or heat you really cant over water a plant if you gave it a daily dunking, just make sure semi succulents with thin tightly fitted leaves or bulbous base plants are allowed to drain the excess off by mounting or hanging at an angle.
How do I tell if a species likes a lot or little water? Learn your plant by watching it daily. Feel it. Handle it, gently of course. If you read the care section you will know that gray stiffer leaf species like less water than the thin soft or shiny leaf species. A very easy way to find out is with a misting bottle. Mist your plant and watch how it holds the water, if it runs off immediately, it likes to be watered frequently because it doesn't absorb water very well, a good example is the bulbosa or butzii which are both very shiny. If the water goes into the leaf and stays there without dripping then it absorbs easily and will not require as frequent a watering. This is not to say that you shouldn't water all your tillandsia often, in my opinion, the more water they receive, then the healthier and happier they are. I never met a tillandsia that didn't like to be watered.
Haha and finally this is not really a frequently asked question but one that I have been asked by several of my new found tillandsia buddies and it really tickles me good. Are you Cajun?? Well.......Yes I am, not by birth but by right of adoption. Ask any good Cajun and they will tell you, once your adopted by a clan, your as good as born into it. Until later, and more questions, Don't forget to water your babies!
MISINFORMATION AND ABUSE
I don't claim to 'know it all' but it makes me so sad to see the misinformation being spread by sellers who just want to make a buck or who honestly don't know or have been misinformed themselves. One of the latest trends is calling a plant RARE. How can a plant be rare if so many are selling it? Ebay auctions alone have 3 different sellers listing ionantha v. vanhyningii as a rare species. Remember RARE is an attention grabber in the title, always read the description of the plant and use good common sense. Also calling a plant a 'hybrid' when it is not. Where do these people get their information? If a plant is a hybrid, it should be listed as so with the names of the two species that were cross bred to show that this is so. For instance tillandsia 'victoria' should be shown as a cross of ionantha x brachycaulos, a serious collector will want this information.
I watch these auctions frequently and have come across some pretty unusual claims. One seller even went so far as to suggest that you "pull the center leaves away from the plant to check for rot" OH MY GOD! You should never do this, if a leaf comes off in your hand, gently tug another to see if it comes off easy, if it does, continue to remove them until only firm leaves are left then allow the plant to dry well, you may not get a bloom from it but pups might show up, I never throw away a plant until I am sure it is dead.
The worse is the 'mist plants once or twice a week' or 'water only once or twice a week if you live in the deep south where it is humid' Ok this is fine if you have them growing in a green house where its very humid, but for an average plant owner, they will surly suffer if they get only misting. All areas are different, I live in the humid southern part of Louisiana and my watering schedule is every other day when the temperature is 75+, when temps reach the 90's its daily for them and they love it, I have even had to water twice a day when temps reached 110 and the weather was so dry. The truth is most tillandsia, succulents being the exception, do not absorb water so well. Species like aeranthos, bergeri, bulbosa and many other shiny or stiff leaved plants need the extra water and its almost impossible to over water them, while species from dryer regions like argentea, juncea and funckiana absorb water better they still like it more often than less, just give them better air circulation to dry completely. Get to know your plant, if it shows signs of dehydration, up the watering schedule and only slow down as the weather cools.
As for abuse, I have spent good money on hybrid plants only to have them bloom immediately, show little color and have not one single pup come from the parent. This is usually due to the use of a product called Florel, its a great product to use for nursery cut flowers but its ABUSE when you buy a plant that you hope to multiply and keep for years. This product, and my words may not be exact here, cause a birth control effect. It causes the plant to shut down its life or hormone cycle, bloom within 6 weeks of treatment and have only 1 or no pups at all. What a good way to keep the price of hybrids up and fewer around.
Another abuse that irks me is the selling of plants that are obviously not what they name them to be. Certainly some species will look totally different depending on the amounts of light they get but I have seen some that are sold as other than they actually are. This could be from losing the name tags but these plants are so easy to identify if you learn a bit about them. For instance I once came across an argentina that was being sold as albertiana, these two species are almost identical in size and shape. The only way to tell them apart is the bloom and if your a bit more knowledgeable, the texture of the leaf. Albertiana is shiny and only wrinkles when its dehydrated, while the argentina is slightly rough and always wrinkled. When in doubt I just wait for the blooms and if I still don't know, the plant becomes part of my collection A collector will want to have the true name whether its a species or a hybrid, it's very important.
And finally the most common abuse, selling species that in no way grow together, mounted on the same piece of wood or hanging on string. These mountings are so pretty displayed but when you bring them home they soon die because you either over water some or don't give enough light. For instance here is a popular mix sold growing on wire or mounted on wood "BULBOSA, CAPUT MEDUSAE, JUNCEA, STRICTA,BRACHYCAULOS,BERGERII" Bulbosa likes low light levels and lots of humidity because the leaves are shiny and do not absorbed well, caput medusae likes bright light and less water as it absorbs easily, juncea is a sun and dry air lover and would rot and die indoors or grown with the same watering of bulbosa, stricta or bergeri, stricta is ok with bulbosa or brachycaulos, brachycaulos would rot given the same amounts of water and humidity as bulbosa, stricta or bergeri, bergeri needs brighter light than bulbosa or stricta but would do well with the same watering. Make sure your plants grow in the same conditions before you purchase mounted scapes or some of the plants will suffer.
I had to mention this one. The latest trend in auctions is to copy my hints either from this web site or from my auctions, I'm not sure, but they tend to expand and exaggerate them. One of the hints I suggest on albertiana species is to not remove the lower leaves that have died if pups are present, it helps to support the pup, keeping it attached to the parent until it can grow roots of its own. This has now become a commonly mentioned hint for all plants which is just not the case. You can remove lower dead leaves of most species and in fact should because they hold moisture and can cause rot to the plant and all pups. These pups need the air flow for healthy growth. Albertiana is a species that is not a common one to rot and they like lots of water so leave the leaves.
Buyers! Don't be afraid to ask the seller questions. Not all sellers have the same size plants but tend to charge the same prices. A good seller wont mind giving you specifics. Remember, You Get What You Pay For!
Some of the Species and hybrids that I grow
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