Genus Tillandsia The Worldâ€™s Most Unusual Airplants PAUL T. ISLEY III
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IR TO P G SO L M AN RO UC H TS W M OR
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION................................................... 1 PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS.......................................... 5 BLOOMS & REPRODUCTION.................................................. 6 OUTDOOR CARE.................................................. 11 INDOOR CARE....................................................... 19 FERTILIZATION AND WATER QUALITY................................................ 23 MOUNTING PROCEDURES........................................................ 24 TILLANDSIA II — The Book........................... 27 1st Edition—January 1977 2nd Edition—July 1977 3rd Edition—May 1978 4th Edition—March 1979 5th Edition—May 1980 6th Edition—June 1982 7th Edition—May 1983 8th Edition—Feb. 1985 9th Edition—July 1986 10th Edition—March 1989 11th Edition—Sept. 1991 12th Edition—April 1994 13th Edition—August 1995 14th Edition—June 2009 15th Edition—December 2016 No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, internet or any information storage and retrieval system without the express written consent of the publisher. ©Copyright 1977 Published by Paul T. Isley III, 2016 Rainforest Flora, Inc. 19121 Hawthorne Blvd. Torrance, CA 90503 www.rainforestflora.com
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America Design: Wendell Pascual
Cover: Tillandsia Lucky Lady (T. concolor X T. xerographica) One of the most attractive Tillandsia hybrids. Generally matures from 8” to 12” (20 to 30 cm). Inside Cover: Tillandsia Marvelous Masterpiece (T. rothii x T. brachycaulos) is indicative of the beauty that large tillandsias can possess. Notice the red coloration that occurs at blooming time. This helps hummingbird pollinators locate the flowers. Their flower feeding can initiate the production of seeds that will eventually disperse on ambient air currents to establish new founder colonies.
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INTRODUCTION Tillandsia airplants are easily among the most fascinating, modern looking, and care free plants one can have and grow. This is because there are so many completely different looking species, cultivars and hybrids that are interesting and attractive to look at. In addition, what other plants can you think of that can grow almost anywhere—even hanging suspended in the air—and be so minimal in their care? And as for their care, over time all they need is to be in a brightly lit spot and receive sufficient moisture which they absorb through their leaves instead of their roots. Many will take temperatures down to about freezing and if they dry out they can be submerged in water over night to be rehydrated! On top of all of this, most of them produce brilliantly colored inflorescences and/or the leaves change to bright red at blooming time. All of this is discussed in more detail below so read on, enjoy, and learn about one of nature’s most unique horticultural creations!
EXACTLY WHAT ARE TILLANDSIA AIRPLANTS? Tillandsias come from the family of flora called Bromeliaceae (bro-meh-lee-AH-say-eye). They are commonly referred to as Bromeliads. The bromeliad family includes a wide range of plants such as the pineapple, Ananus comosus, and the famous “Spanish Moss,” Tillandsia usneoides (oosnay-oh-EE-des). A plant family name is used to describe a broad variety of related plants. Cactus and orchid are the common names for plant families with which you may be more familiar. More closely related plants in these families are separated into genera (sing., genus); examples of two orchid genera would be Cattleya and Cymbidium. Other bromeliad genera include, among others, Neoregelia, Guzmania, Vriesea, Cryptanthus, Billbergia and Aechmea. Each individual type of plant is then given a species name that separates it from all other plants. As people become more familiar with and develop a deeper passion for Tillandsia they quickly realize that many species actually have different looking forms within that species. There are many forms of T. ionantha for instance. These plants that are different from the standard form, or “type”, are called either varieties or cultivars. A varietal name is given to a form of that plant that is different from the type and it has been described and printed in a professional publication. The description of the plant has to be in Latin so that the meaning of what is stated can never change. An example would be Tillandsia ionantha v. (for variety) stricta. Left: A spectacular clump of brilliantly blooming Tillandsia funckiana Herb Hill that was begun from a single plant close to 50 years ago. And, no, it is not growing on anything other than ancestral material. It is hanging over the main feature koi pond at Rainforest Flora, Inc. (RFI) in Torrance, CA. Paul T. Isley III 1
A cultivar name is given to a form that differs from the type but it has not been written up and published professionally. Tillandsia ionantha Sumo Size White and T. ionantha Druid are examples. Others would be T. bulbosa Gigante or T. concolor Red Prince. A hybrid is a cross between two different species. That is, if the pollen is taken from the anthers of one particular plant and put onto the stigma of a different speciesâ€”and if pollination occursâ€”any seeds produced and grown would be a hybrid between the two parents. For instance, many years ago we took yellow pollen grains from the anthers of Tillandsia butzii and we placed them on the white stigma of T. bulbosa. The resulting hybrid was named Tillandsia Kacey. (see photo page 20)
Tillandsia HISTORY AND DISTRIBUTION The bromeliad genus Tillandsia was named by Swedish physician and botanist Carl Linnaeus (d. 1778) for a Finnish physician and botanist, Elias Tillands (d. 1693). It is an epiphytic (able to grow without soil) genus comprised of over 700 recognized species that makes it the largest in the family. Even today, more species are being discovered in the remote corners of Latin America as dedicated enthusiasts seek them out. Some Tillandsia species are ubiquitous, growing over thousands of square miles. Many number in the millions in their native habitats. At the other end of the scale, there are exotic species that can be confined to a single valley or mountain range. Because of their rarity or the fact that many of them often have specialized growth requirements, these species are not as generally available.
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With the exception of the southern U.S., all tillandsias come from Latin America. Tillandsias are true air plants unlike the air fern which is actually a green-dyed seaweed from Great Britain (genus Bobula). Although some species flourish in mesic (wet) habitats, most popular species of Tillandsia proliferate in xeric (subject to periods of drought) environments. They are often found growing exposed to sunlight, perched singly or in clumps on various types of cacti, thorny scrub bushes or trees, rock outcroppings, cliffs, or even directly on gravely or sandy ground. Plants that grow on rocks are termed saxicoles or lithophyes and those that use other plant material for their host are called epiphytes. A Tillandsia is termed terrestrial if it grows primarily in a soil type of medium. The gorgeous T. cyanea is the species most often available. Few other terrestrial tillandsias have commercial appeal. Xerophytic tillandsias are able to exploit what we would consider to be harsh habitats, i.e. droughty and hot. These xeric types include most of the commercially attractive and available plants. Left: Colorful contrast between fuzzy Tillandsia tectorum and T. ionantha Mexico on a Tillandsia covered grapewood branch on the rockscape at RFI. Above: Two plant specimen of Tillandsia ionantha v. stricta in bloom as a saxicole at RFI. Paul T. Isley III 3
They can survive and even thrive in these harsh environments by the development of some very interesting mechanisms that are discussed in some detail in the large, hard-bound book, Tillandsia II. Suffice it to say here that among the tillandsioid modifications are: the development of a thick layer of water storage tissue, increasing number and shield complexity of the absorbing trichomes (white fuzzy structures on the leaves), a decrease in leaf number, a decrease in root development, a decrease in overall plant size and water impoundment capacity, a reduction in the number of flowers and fruits per shoot (plant), and an increasing tendency for self-fertilization. Xeric growing tillandsias have evolved to be stress tolerant because extreme epiphytism is possible only under certain rigid criteria. Because of these adaptations, tillandsias are poorly designed to grow large quickly. Tillandsias are tremendously adaptable, tolerating a wider range of conditions than most other plants. After being placed in a good location and having made the adjustment to their new surroundings, they are capable of surviving long periods of time without attention. Take care of them, but do not be a slave to them. They will manage just fine!
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS Tillandsias vary greatly in size, shape, and texture. A strand of Spanish moss is very small indeed, with three or four centimeters constituting a healthy and viable plant. Yet some mesic species, such as Tillandsia secunda and T. somnians, can grow to be well over a meter in height when in bloom! Tillandsias such as T. geminiflora or T. flabellata originate in rainforests and are soft-leaved while xerophytes like T. concolor or T. ixioides (ix-ee-oh-ee-des) have relatively stiff leaves. These species have leaves emanating in a circular pattern from a center point like the well-known decorative interiorscape bromeliads, genera Vriesea and Guzmania. The mesic species, Tillandsia rauhii, can reach almost two meters in width and produce a nice pendulous (hanging) inflorescence that can reach two meters in length. One of the largest species of Tillandsia, T. grandis, can actually attain a height of three meters when in bloom. The spreading floral spikes can also make the inflorescence a meter wide! Many Tillandsia species, such as T. caput-medusae and T. butzii, appear to be from another galaxy let alone another planet. One beautiful species, T. plumosa, appears to be a snow-covered sea urchin. This fuzzy leaf covering consists of foliar hairs called trichomes which was mentioned previously. A curious aspect of Tillandsia that many people find attractive and fascinating is the trichomes that are present in many forms of plant life but are especially highly developed in the xeric species. When it rains or Left: A spectacular, blooming clump of Tillandsia Showtime, a popular hybrid between T. bulbosa and T. streptophylla. Many of the hybrids exhibit the best traits of both parents. Paul T. Isley III 5
there is dew in the air, these trichomes rapidly transfer water from the leaf surface to elongated storage cells inside it. As discussed in the chapter Foliar Trichomes in Tillandsia II, trichomes aid the plants in a number of other important functions. In some species that receive moisture at frequent intervals, the trichome “wings” are perpendicular to the leaf surface in order to facilitate epidermal drying. In others, the “wings” parallel the epidermis to help insulate the leaf from extreme heat. Another valuable function performed by the trichomes is to reflect the excess sunlight that might damage the leaf. Tillandsias that live under mesic conditions have smaller, widely dispersed trichomes. Often, they cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is difficult to see the trichomes on the leaves of T. cyanea or the lower (abaxial) side of the leaf blades of T. bulbosa. In contrast, Tillandsia tectorum has perhaps the largest trichomes and these are easily visible. The reflection of light from these fuzzy looking trichomes is what gives the plant its bright white countenance. One of the most remarkable characteristics of this genus is the incredible diversity of species within it. Probably no other genus and few other families of plant life are so vastly different in morphology (appearance). Why are so many species so different from each other in appearance? This intriguing question, though needing too much space to be detailed here, is explored more thoroughly in Tillandsia II.
BLOOMS AND REPRODUCTIONS Beautiful flowers are another remarkable feature of these plants. The intensity and richness of the purples, reds, pinks, yellows, and greens is truly something to behold! When you notice the plant beginning to send out its inflorescence more light may intensify the colors. The blooming cycle for some rapidly growing species may be a couple weeks. For most, it is a month or two and for some xeric, slow growing types, it may last as long as a year. A number of them, such as Tillandsia crocata, T. duratii, T. mallemontii, T. purpurea, and T. straminea, have wonderfully fragrant blooms. The flowering season for tillandsias usually begins in late fall or early winter and runs through early spring. In the U.S., however, there always seems to be something blooming in a fair-sized collection. During or after blooming, tillandsias produce anywhere from one to a dozen baby plants called offsets, offshoots, or pups. Many develop offsets from the base of the plant and others produce the offsets from the base of the inflorescence, that is, at the base of the newest leaves. Some produce numbers of offsets from among the leaf axils along the stem in caulescent Right: Close-up of the inflorescence of Tillandsia aeranthos. This venerable species blooms every March and April.
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(stem growing) species. Other species, such as Tillandsia latifolia, T. intermedia and T. secunda, produce offshoots from the inflorescence itself, and a few, such as T. tricolor, grow them at the end of short runners called stolons. Offsets gradually mature to adult size in one to two years, while the parent plant gradually dies over the space of a generation or two. In this way, along with seed production, the species is perpetuated, increasing its numbers through the generations. Although the parent plant eventually dies, the mother plant in most species keeps up its appearance until the pups are fully grown. Since each parent usually produces more than a single offset, the plant will increase in numbers over the years to form a beautiful, blooming clump. In their native habitats, tillandsias have adapted to conditions of brisk air movement and intense sunlight. The plants that have thinner leaves come from environments of strong air movement and those with whiter, more stiff leaves are from areas that are subject to more intense sunlight and/or longer periods between receiving moisture. Therefore people often ask if the different tillandsias can be mixed and matched and the answer is a definite yes because they will thrive under such a broad range of conditions. But, that being said, they all like bright light, air circulation and sufficient water. These topics are discussed in more detail in the sections on outdoor and indoor care below. 8 Genus Tillandsia 15
If tillandsias produced seeds like most other plants many if not all of these seeds would fall to the ground and the species would gradually become extinct. Therefore, to get around this, the seeds have evolved a fuzzy, cottony attachment on the seed coat called a coma. This parachutelike apparatus lets the seeds float on air currents for long distances thereby allowing them to maintain their habitats high in trees, on cliffs, etc. In addition, this great dispersal capability permits the seeds to rapidly colonize new habitat sites. The establishment of these founder populations is one of the important factors in the great morphological diversity within the genus (see chapter on Evolution in Tillandsia II ). The coma hair, like the trichome, indicates a high degree of specialization. A few Tillandsia species produce very large bloom spikes with many thousands of seeds. Their total energy is devoted to this effort so they produce no vegetative offsets after blooming. However, they do often produce offsets while they are growing to maturity. These are monocarpic (bloom once and then gradually die without producing any offsets at anthesis, that is, during the blooming period) species such as T. rauhii and T. grandis. Many people find their plant will not bloom if kept in the house. This is usually because a personâ€™s indoor conditions do not come close enough to the natural environment. Most often, the plant does not receive enough light and/ or moisture to sustain a concerted blooming effort which may mean that the plant is not strong enough. Another possibility is that the length of time the plant receives sufficient light is not sufficient to trigger the blooming cycle. If your plant is mature, keep it outside and eventually it will bloom when given the right combination of light, air circulation, temperature, and moisture. Once the inflorescence has developed, bring the plant indoors and enjoy it if you desire. Interestingly, a number of experienced collectors oftentimes do not want a particular Tillandsia to bloom for once begun the cycle is irreversible and that particular Tillandsia will not grow any larger. It will reproduce but that plant will have seen its day and if the specimen had taken a number of years to grow to magnificent, unheard of proportions, one can understand someoneâ€™s desire in wishing not to lose an old friend. For those who really want to see their plant(s) bloom, it can be done artificially. The plant should be mature, strong and healthy before flowering is induced. There are two basic methods, both of which work well. One is to buy a product called Florel at your local nursery. A little solution is mixed with water and sprayed down into the bases of the centermost leaves of the plant. The other way is to place the plant in a plastic bag with a piece of ripe apple for a couple of days (be sure that the bag stays out of any sunlight). The ethylene gas from the Florel or apple will do the trick in six to twentyAbove Left: Close-up of the inflorescence of Tillandsia Featherduster, an exquisite and delicate appearing hybrid of T. stricta and T. gardneri. Of course, in reality it is anything but delicate! Paul T. Isley III 9
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four weeks depending on the species. Many people get more satisfaction if the plant is allowed to complete its life cycle naturally. In addition, the inflorescence may be larger and longer lasting. Tillandsia offsets can be left attached to the parent plant, eventually forming an attractive clump, or they can be separated and attached to something else to grow singly. If you choose to separate the plants, wait until the offsets are half the parent size before removing them. Use a sharp knife to cut them off at the point of attachment. Keep the wound clean and let it dry for a day or two. If you want the Tillandsia to root to the surface of the mounting material, the surface should be rough to give the roots something on which to grab hold. The plant can be glued, wired, or tied with fishing line (see Mounting Procedures).
OUTDOOR CARE One of the most compelling Tillandsia aspects is the ease with which they are maintained. Tillandsias are easily grown in an outdoor patio or under a tree. In coastal or humid environs many of them may be grown in full sun. As a general rule of thumb, the greener and softer leaved plants require less sunlight and more moisture and they tend to thrive in cooler areas. The grayer, stiffer leaved tillandsias prefer more light and will tolerate, even thrive, with less moisture and they are usually from warmer climes. Buy a Tillandsia that will take advantage of the location in which you would like to place it but also know that there is a great overlap of growing conditions among the different species under which they will thrive so that unless you want to grow them in a more extreme environment almost all of them will do fine together. Most tillandsias come from humid climates so they do not transpire (lose water) as quickly as they would if they grew in places where the air was drier. The rate at which a plant will lose its internal water supply (the soft tissues of a bromeliad are 80-90% water) is a function of temperature and humidity. The higher the temperature and the lower the humidity the faster the plant will lose waterâ€“just like people! During periods of low humidity, intense sunlight can burn the leaves of even the most xerophytic Tillandsia unless the plant has been gradually acclimated to longer periods of direct sunlight. In the East, Midwest, and South of the U.S. where it is quite humid, the problem of too much light is not as critical as it is in other, drier areas. The ability of tillandsias to survive long periods of drought (owner neglect?) qualifies them to be among the worldâ€™s hardiest plants, especially when combined with their tolerance of almost freezing temperatures, Left: Blooming specimens of Tillandsia geminiflora happily perched on a vertical rock face at RFI. This species has soft, flexible leaves that are a bright nile green and they can blush to a lucious wine red in bright light and/or when the plant is in bloom. Paul T. Isley III 11
extreme heat, high wind, etc. Together with the fact that there is no soil to contend with, they also qualify as one of the world’s most care-free plants for growers— when one has a basic understanding of how the plants function. Tillandsias love fresh air breezes. Of course with more exposure to actual wind they dehydrate more quickly and they should receive more water to compensate for that. Temperature is not much of a factor unless it either approaches freezing or gets quite hot. The mesic species are more susceptible to extremes of cold and heat. If the environment is hot and dry, over watering the plants is almost impossible. In fact, under these conditions, the more frequently tillandsias are watered and fertilized (assuming they are receiving strong light), the faster they will grow. Xeric tillandsias cannot be over watered unless the epidermal surfaces remain wet for longer than a few days. This can happen when the leaves are not able to exchange vital gases and this may cause them to “suffocate”, as would a human under water who drowns from lack of oxygen. The physical details of how this occurs is explained in more detail ºin Tillandsia II. If your humidity is low a good way to overcome this handicap is to place your tillandsias close to a group of other soil-bound plants. The water that evaporates and transpires from the soil and leaves of the overall group of plants will help humidify the surrounding air, helping to create a livable microclimate. Another way to accomplish this is to fill a large, flat pan with gravel and water and place the mountings over it. As a rule, tillandsias are not harmed by insect pests. Scale and mealy bugs are the most common and they are easily eradicated. Dip the plants for a minute in a pesticide solution approved for that particular insect. Usually a ratio of a tablespoon of pesticide per gallon of water will work. A drop or two of liquid dish soap will help the water to spread across the leaf surface instead of beading on it. Remember to always follow Previous page: Aerial view of the retail area at Rainforest Flora’s Torrance facility. Notice the many large clumps all of which began as one, single plant in years past. Right: Tillandsia Winner’s Circle is an attractive, easy-to-grow hybrid between T. Houston and T. aeranthos. It looks a lot like a T. aeranthos but it has many more leaves, grows much larger, and the inflorescence is also much larger.
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the label directions. Do not rinse the plants in water immediately after—wait a day or so. If one of your tillandsias should ever happen to rot, that is the center leaves fall out, do not throw it away unless there is nothing left alive. To check, take the plant and pull gently on the leaves, starting from the center. If they come out easily and the tips are black, continue in a circular fashion from the center outward. If a point is reached where the leaves do not pull out, and there is a substantial portion of the plant left, keep it. Let the specimen dry completely and then treat it as you would any other Tillandsia because numerous pups are often produced. There is a caution, however—if the pulled leaf tips are white, the plant is fine and the leaves were pulled too hard. Sometime you may notice that part of a Tillandsia base has become soft and mushy like a bruised apple. Take a clean knife and excise the bruise. Make sure you get all of the brown area because the rot can spread. Keep the base dry until it callouses over and then treat it as before. If the rot has not spread too far the plant will produce new growth.
INDOOR CARE While able to be placed just about anywhere indoors for a month or so with no harm, tillandsias kept in the house longer than that need to be watched closely until they establish themselves in your indoor environment. They love fresh air, bright light, and humidity—conditions often absent in the home. However, since tillandsias possess the ability to adapt to a wide range of climatic conditions, they will often grow, or at least not decline, indoors if you do your part to give them as much of their natural surroundings as possible. Tillandsias kept in the house should receive plenty of strong light from a nearby window (preferably facing east, west, or south in the northern hemisphere, the opposite in the southern). If this is not practical, broadPrevious pages: Perfect clump of Tillandsia tenuifolia Blue Flower grown over a period of six years from a single plant in Torrance, CA. Above: Beautiful grapewood mounted Tillandsia and mini Neoregelia installation on kitchen counter. Bottom right: Various indoor applications courtesy of Paul Rojas from Ventura, CA. Paul T. Isley III 19
spectrum fluorescent lights provide 92% of actual sunlight when placed 12” (30 cm) above the plants. Watering is critical indoors since there is usually a lack of humidity, especially in homes or offices with air conditioning and/or central heating. A successful way to water the plants is to totally submerge them for several seconds once a week in container that has “good water” in it. Tap water often has a high level of calcium carbonate and calcium sulphate in order to prolong the longevity of the delivery system pipes that are usually made of metal. This can significantly increase the pH to over 7 or even over 8. Tillandsias prefer water that is slightly acidic with a pH of 5.5 to 6. Bottled drinking water or rainwater work well. You can fill something like an ice cream or cottage cheese container and keep a lid on it so the water doesn’t evaporate. Use that same water to dip your tillandsias until the water runs low at which time more can be added. If you have a pinch of Epiphytes Delight or any other commercial fertilizer that has ammoniacal or nitrate nitrogen in lieu of urea nitrogen, that will work as well (see section on Fertilization and Water Quality). If the edges of any of the leaves begin to curl up toward each other more than normal it is an indication that the plant is becoming too dry. At this point, you need to take your Tillandsia and submerge it overnight in order to rehydrate it. The fact that this can be done successfully is a huge bonus in the effort to grow tillandsias well—it is a huge fudge factor! In the morning you will be amazed at how much better the plant looks. If, however, the leaf edges are still very curled up, it means that the cells have suffered mechanical damage that is permanent. But, that being said, the plant will continue to grow and with decent conditions the new leaves will be fine and, over time, the old, curled up leaves will be a thing of the past. Misting with good water can also help in dry conditions but this should be done in addition to dipping, not instead of it. In dry conditions, water misted onto a plant often evaporates before the plant has had the opportunity to absorb much if any of it. Rght: Tillandsia Kacey is a cross between T. bulbosa and T. butzii that, again as with so many hybrids, grows to be significantly larger than either parent. It produces many undulating, wavy leaf blades.
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Even if the leaves do absorb the water it may not be enough to overcome a water deficit. The plants will gradually dehydrate and may eventually die from a lack of moisture unless you submerge it as mentioned above. Be aware that the converse can also be true. If your Tillandsia is indoors and doesn’t get much air circulation and it isn’t particularly bright, over misting can cause the plant to rot. This happens because the meristematic tissue, the area at the bottom of the plant from which the leaves grow, remains moist for a few days causing the tissue to die. This why we recommend dunking the plant in good water once or twice a week and then turning it upside down for a couple of seconds before returning it to its growing location. The plant cannot stay too wet for too long and, unless you have extreme conditions of heat and aridity, submerging for a few seconds once or twice a week will prevent the plant from dehydrating. In a light airy house, most tillandsias will adapt. In a stuffy, closed-in environment they may not. Success varies from person to person, household to household, species to species, even plant to plant. Keep your tilly indoors if you like. If it thrives, wunderbar. If it starts to decline move it outdoors. One foolproof method for enjoying the plants indoors is to rotate them every month with plants that are growing in better conditions, that is outdoors or under broad spectrum fluorescent lights.
FERTILIZATION & WATER QUALITY Tillandsias have evolved over the eons to become supreme oligotrophs—nutrient scavengers. Tillandsias in nature receive very little in the way of nutrients and they make maximum use of those they do happen to assimilate. However, this does not mean a generous fertilization program is useless. To the contrary, a consistent fertilization program during the warm months will produce larger, more robust plants when combined with strong light and frequent, thorough watering. Left: Tillandsia Houston Colossus is a special clone that grows larger, produces more leaves, and has a larger inflorescence that the normal form, which is spectacular in its own right! (The Swiss Army knife is 3 ½” (8 ½ cm) and is used for size comparison). Paul T. Isley III 23
The most important nutrient in terms of foliar growth is nitrogen. Tillandsias, like orchids, prefer a fertilizer high in nitrogen—a 30:10:10 for instance. The 30 represents nitrogen content, 10 the relative amounts of phosphorus and potash. However, most of the available commercial fertilizers contain a urea-based nitrogen. This is fine for potted plants but useless for epiphytes because the nitrogen must be broken down by bacteria in the soil before it becomes available to the plant. Tillandsias don’t have soil so they can’t break down the urea nitrogen and therefore they cannot use it. Ammoniacal or nitrate nitrogen is immediately available to the plant but most fertilizers have very little, if any, in their mix. A highly recommend fertilizer is called Epiphytes Delight (distributed by RFI). It has been in the marketplace for over 30 years and consistently wins high marks from growers who want the best plants. It contains the two useful forms of nitrogen and none with urea. Besides the necessary phosphorus and potash, this well-balanced source of nutrients also contains essential chelated trace elements. The plants should grow faster, larger and produce a larger inflorescence and more pups when fertilized in combination with a program of bright light along with sufficient watering. The plants should be fertilized on a consistent schedule. A dilute amount every time the plants are watered would be ideal. But fertilization every week or two with a stronger solution is fine. If fertilization is performed on a bi-weekly basis, up to a one-half teaspoon per gallon ratio can be used. The plants can be misted or submerged in the solution of fertilizer and water. Water does make a difference in the appearance of the plants. Many city-dwellers have alkaline water in their public system. Over time, this can cause a white salt and mineral build-up on the leaves that is unsightly. Bromeliads in general, and tillandsias in particular, like water that is slightly acid. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. City water often has a pH of 8.0 (alkaline) or even higher. Although tillandsias will grow well in water with a high pH, they prefer a slightly acid pH of about 5.5 to 6.0 (as stated earlier). If you soak your plants, a little vinegar, sulfuric, or phosphoric acid added to the water will drop the pH. A pH test kit can be purchased from an aquarium or swimming pool supply store. If all of this sounds too complicated, don’t worry about it. Do what you can and the plants will probably grow like weeds. Remember above all that tillandsias are among the most carefree and hardiest plants when given the requisite amount of light, water, and nutrients.
MOUNTING PROCEDURES Tillandsias are often mounted on pieces of sand-blasted or tumbled grapewood because it is light and easy to work with. Pieces of driftwood, 24 Genus Tillandsia 15
bark, shells, ceramics, etc. also serve the purpose of providing an attractive background and mounting for tillandsias. In recent years beautiful and realistic figurines of animals, fish, birds, Halloween pumpkins and skulls, and special skulls for Day of the Dead have become more and more popular. Glass globes of various shapes and sizes with air plants inside have become mainstream. Mounting most species of Tillandsia on grapewood or some other wood material is simple. The smaller species may be glued directly onto the surface of the wood. If there is a small, natural depression in an appropriate mounting spot, use it for the root base. If you like, a drill can be used to sculpt a small hole or depression to better anchor the plant. However, be careful to avoid attaching the plant deep into a hole that will cover up much of the plant base. A word of caution! Plants that are stuck into holes often rot when the base becomes wet and does not have an opportunity to dry from a lack of air circulation. This mistake often occurs when people put the plants too far down into the opening of a seashell. Another problem is sometimes encountered when a giant swath of sphagnum moss is wrapped around the Above: Tilly HangerTM is a soft flexible wire offered in a dozen colors that is used to hang tillandsias in the air to show off their true epiphytic nature and to effectively utilize vertical spaces indoors and out. Epiphytes DelightTM is a well-balanced fertilizer that is specifically made for plants that grow without soil bound roots. Tilly TackerTM is a styrene based adhesive that is water proof, permanent, and is applied at room temperatures which makes it an ideal material to use for attaching tillandsias to a mount. Paul T. Isley III 25
plant base. This is usually done to make the whole mounting look more attractive. But again, it blocks air circulation and will often hasten the demise of a plant if kept moist. Tillandsia cyanea is about the only widely available species that prefers this moist arrangement and that is because it is mesic (more moisture loving). Sphagnum moss, or any other such medium, is normally used as a cosmetic device to hide the glue or wire used to mount the plant. As long as a small amount is used this is fine. The knowledgeable grower understands the purpose of the moss and will not use too much and/or keep it excessively wet. There are advantages and disadvantages to every type of glue and, generally, any will accomplish the task. Tilly Tackerâ„˘ is a styrene-based adhesive that works extremely well because it has significant advantages, the greatest of which is that it is truly waterproof and it is applied at room temperature. In addition, it is nontoxic to the plants and it dries sufficiently in an hour to hold most plants firmly in position. Also, the plants can be removed at a later date if one so chooses. This is also a tremendous adhesive for any other household application as well and one 3.7 oz tube will attach many, many plants. Tilly Tacker should be available at your local nursery or it can be ordered online from RFI. Many species are ageotropic, that is, they grow irrespective of gravity and can therefore be mounted in any position, even upside down. Mount your plants creatively on hanging pieces, using all dimensions of the wood. Some species such as Tillandsia incarnata are caulescent (grow along a stem) and can be mounted in a hanging position. The apex of the plant will turn and grow upward toward the light source as the plant clumps and grows longer over the years. Larger species such as Tillandsia xerographica, Tillandsia fasciculata, and T. jaliscomonticola can be glued when mounted in a sitting position. But when the plants are meant to be hung, they are normally too large to be mounted effectively with glue. Soft wire or fishing line can be used instead. Also, these are species that need to be grown vertically, that is, the plants should face up. Tilly Hangerâ„˘ is an attractive, pliable wire that comes in many different colors and can easily be bent into any shape. It, too, should be available at your local garden center or nursery. You can take the end of a length of Tilly Hanger and make a circle around the base of the plant and then wrap the wire two or three times in a circular fashion up the side of your Tilly, forming a basket for it in which to sit. Then the wire can go straight up and be bent into a hook in order to hang the plant. Whatâ€™s great about using Tilly Hanger in this manner is that you can then hang a number of them one from the other forming a visually fascinating living tilly chain. You can situate your attractive creation near any light source such as a kitchen window, sliding glass door, balcony, or patio. 26 Genus Tillandsia 15
Above: Tillandsia II is the sequel to his collectors’ item first edition, Tillandsia, that was published in 1987.
Tillandsia II — The Book
For many years there were a number of scientific and taxonomic works available about Tillandsia, but none of them are accessible to the public. Many people wanted to know where they could get their hands on a book that would tell them about the different available species and how to care for them. They desired background information that would add to their learning and understanding while serving to enrich their hobby with beautiful color photographs. The result was Tillandsia which was first published in 1987 and soon became a collector’s item. Tillandsia II is the updated version that supplanted Tillandsia. The major difference between the two is that now there is a 30 page chapter devoted to the wonderful hybrids few of which existed back in the 1980s.
The Bromeliad Society International Founded in 1950, is a world wide organization that promotes interest and understanding of the plants among the people who collect them. If you enjoy your tillandsias and wish to increase your knowledge and appreciation of them, think about joining the BSI. Each member receives a quarterly copy of the Bromeliad Journal which is a gorgeous 48 page booklet with many articles on bromeliad-related subjects submitted from around the world. There are many beautiful photos, and most were in full color. You can do a browser search for the most current information on how to join. Paul T. Isley III 27
15th Edition by Paul T. Isley III