A member of the Bromeliad or Bromeliaceae family, Tillandsia consists of a genus of approximately 540 species. Most commonly found in South America, Central America, parts of Mexico and the southern-most border states of the United States, these plants thrive in the deserts, mountains and forests areas of these regions.
Areas with abundant rainfall usually produce plants that have thinner leaves. Arid areas, such as deserts, that are subject to drought or have minimal rainfall usually produce plant varieties with thicker leaves. These plants support themselves in the dryer areas by collecting moisture and nutrients from the surrounding air. The sources of nutrients include dust, insect matter and decaying leaves which are gathered through leaf structures called trichomes.
Tillandsia are also know as epiphytes. Epiphytes are also referred to as air plants or aerophytes. Epiphytes, under most conditions do not need soil for growth, are not considered parasitic and attach to their host as a means of support only. Air plants mainly repoduce by generating pups or offsets. One plant can easily produce as many as 12 offspring.
Carolus Linnaeus coined the name for Tillandsia. His inspiration for the naming was the Swedish born Dr. Elias Tillandz, well known as a physician and botanist.
Tillandsia are usually not produced or cultivated for their flowers, even though most will bloom at regular intervals. Many of these species tend to take on a change in leaf color when it comes time to bloom. The leaves will change from green to a reddish or purple hue. When a plant changes leaf coloring prior to blooming, this usually means they are monocarpic. Monocarpic plants are plants that flower one time prior to dying. As stated previously, the pups from the dying plant will continue to grow and will also bloom at some point in the future.
For the most part, the plants can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Temperatures from 32 to 10 degrees Celsius or 90 to 50 degrees Farenheit. Frost for prolonged periods can cause damage to all but the hardiest of these plants.
Tillandsia, has other benefits and properties. The plants contain properties that have been used to inhibit pollen-related allergies.