A Guide to Tillandsia, Part Two: Types of Air Plants



Tillandsias, or air plants, are part of the bromeliad family. Most are epiphytes, growing without the need for soil. Their roots anchor them onto rocks, shrubs, trees, or even cacti, while the hairs on their leaves and stems (called trichomes) help feed them. Even though they sometimes grow on other plants, they are not parasitic. They take up nutrients from decaying plant and animal matter around them. They typically flower only once in their life, but a parent plant reproduces vegetatively at its base, forming small baby plants (or pups) and eventually growing into large clumps that could be broken apart into multiple plants. A few species, like Strictas, bloom regularly.

Part Two of this guide is an overview of some common air plants you’ll regularly find in our shop, with a description of their general needs. All light requirements listed are assuming you are growing air plants indoors. The charts below are displayed in our store as well, along with take home care sheets for your new Tillandsia.

Click here to read Part One (Growing Air Plants)

air-plant-chart-a T. tricolor

So named for the three colors of the inflorescence of blooms (cherry red, canary, and indigo), Tricolors are colorful plants. Leaves range from yellow-green to red depending on the brightness of the light they are grown in. The leaf sheath is brown. A bright, high-humidity environment will produce the most vibrant colors. 

Origin: Mexico and Central America

T. stricta

Stricta air plants are easy to grow and one of the faster growing air plants. This is a really good beginner plant if you’re starting our with your first airplant. It has a short stem with gray leaves that are often spotted with purple. Blooms are bright pink and purple. Strictas are relatively short-lived compared to other air plant species, but after blooming, pups can form rather quickly, giving you more plants.These grow quickly, and can bloom 8-12 months later.

Origin: Eastern South America from Venezuela to Northern Argentina

T. tenuifolia ‘Bonsall Beauty’

Leaves are thin and gray-green that grow along a stem that can reach up to 12″ to 23″ long. Because the leaves are very thin, they dehydrate faster than other air plants and should be grown in a humid environment. Like more air plants, Bonsall Beauty prefers bright, but indirect sun. Flower color is pink and white. 

Species origin: Bolivia and Argentina

T. paleacea ‘Enano’

The epithet paleacea refers to the coarse woollike covering of trichome on the leaves. Enano likes bright light and frequent watering or high humidity. In its natural habitat, it grows in large strands in coastal regions, on cliffs or rock outcroppings. Over time, pups will form a clumping carpet. Flowers are violet.

Origin: Colombia to Bolivia in coastal regions

T. andreana

Andreana has bright green leaves that blush red as it prepares to bloom. It is one of the few air plants that bloom red. Indoors it likes filtered light.

T. velutina

This air plant has thick, velvety dark green leaves that blush yellow and pink when in bloom. Flower color is purple. It forms pups readily.

T. bulbosa ‘Gigante’

The epithet bulbosa refers to swelling base of this air plant. The cultivar Gigante has the ability to grow incredibly large, up to 24″ in length. Leaves are thick green, with a silvery white base. The tips turn cherry red during blooming. Flowers are purple. Bulbosas like medium light. Bulbosas work well in terrariums if they are grown upside down or horizontally, to prevent rot.

Origin: Mexico and the West Indies through Central America

T. ionantha ‘Rubra’

Ionantha Rubra is a small species with thick, green leaves that blush bright crimson when grown in bright light. It can thrive in stronger light than many other air plants and is ideal on a kitchen windowsill. Flowers are purple. 

Origin: Mexico to Nicaragua at elevations of 1450-5500 ft

T. pruinosa

Also called the fuzzy wuzzy air plant because of its fuzzy, gray green leaves. Inflorescence is cherry; flowers are purple. Pruinosa is susceptible to rot, and should be grown sideways or upside down.

Origin: Florida, southern Mexico, Central America, the Carribean islands and South America from Ecuador to Brazil at elevations near sea level to 4000 ft.

 

air-plant-chart-b

T. concolor

This air plant has stiff, yellow-green leaves that tint red when blooming. Bracts are red and green, and flowers are ruby red. Concolor thrives in very high light to shade. 

T. ‘Ragtime’

Ragtime is a rare cultivar that has particularly red leaves when blooming.

T. tectorum ‘Caulescent Form’

Caulescent means it grows along a stem. This air plant has few leaves, which are gray-green in color. It readily produces pups and will form a large clump. Floral bracts are purple, with violet petals.

Species origin: Ecuador and Peru on cliffs and rock outcroppings

T. ‘Best in Class’

Best in Class is a hybrid between T. xerographica and T. rothii. This is a large air plant with bright green leaves that tint red.

T. capitata ‘Marron’

Marron has thick maroon leaves and a chartreuse center. It can get up to 2 feet in diameter. Flowers are purple.

T. latifolia var. divaricata

This air plant can get very large, growing up to 36″ tall with age. Leaves are blue-green to green. Flowers are orange and long-lasting.

 

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T. ‘Houston’ (stricta x recurvifolia)

Houston air plants are one of the most popular air plants in our collection. Blooms are colorful and showy, with bright pink bracts and white flowers. Houston is a hybrid of T. stricta and T. recurvifolia. 

T. funckiana

Funckiana is a small air plant with bright scarlet blooms. The leaves are narrow and look like pine needles along a stem. It prefers an airy spot with bright light.

Origin: Venezuela

T. aeranthos

This air plant typically grows singly or in small clumps. Leaves are arranged densely around a stem. Blooms are colorful, with ruby-red bracts and deep purple flowers that may almost appear black. It produces roots quickly and is easy to mount. After blooming, it will produce 3-6 offsets.

T. ‘Singapore Sling’

Singapore Sling is a rare hybrid of T. stricta and T. leonamiana. It grows larger than either of its parents and has produces a large colorful bloom.

T. aeranthos ‘Miniata’

Miniata is a cultivar of aeranthos. It is smaller than the species and grows more leaves.