Tillandsia Ionantha Rubra Air Plant Clump

10 Interesting Facts About Tillandsia

by Jamie Beck
Tillandsia plants are some of the most unique and interesting plants out there. These plants grow in such a wide range of sizes, colors and textures and are fun to collect and learn about. In this blog post we've compiled some of the most interesting facts about air plants. Read on to learn more.
1. Air plants are epiphytes and can also be lithophytes. An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant, like a tree branch or bark, but is not parasitic. They use their roots to anchor themselves rather than for nutrient uptake. They get their nutrients from the air, rain, and dew. A lithophyte is a plant such as moss or lichen, that grows on or amongst rocks or sand. There are a few “xeric” varieties of air plants that are also lithophytes that use trichomes to absorb moisture from the air.

Tillandsia air plants growing on tree as epiphytes

Air plants growing on a tree trunk 
Photo: habitatbrasileiro.com

2. Tillandsia air plants are members of the Bromeliad family which makes them close cousins to pineapples. 


Bromeliad pineapple plants


3. Air plants use trichomes to absorb nutrients and moisture from the air. See our blog posts All About Trichomes, and Tillandsia Trichomes in Depth to learn more about trichomes. Microscopically, trichomes look like little cups that open and close to absorb and retain moisture. You might notice that some air plants are “fuzzier” than others, and this is all due to trichomes. These fuzzy plants have adapted to have more trichomes in response to dry climates and environmental conditions. Learn about the differences between plants with an abundance of trichomes, and those with less in our blog post "Xeric Vs. Mesic Air Plants." 

Tillandsia air plant trichomes

4. Air plants are unique in that they use CAM photosynthesis to exchange gases and “breathe” at night, which is different from most plants that do this during the day, and use sunlight for photosynthesis. If you’d like to learn more about CAM photosynthesis we have an in depth blog post all about it. 

Tillandsia air plants in the sunlight


5. Tillandsia plants are found in many climates and environments from humid rainforests, high cloud forests, deserts, coasts, and mountain sides. Because they are found in such diverse climates, they have adapted to thrive in these sometimes harsh environments. 


Tillandsia air plant environments and climates

6. Interestingly, most air plants don’t bloom flowers that are scented. Though there are a few that do have scented flowers and produce some of the most delicate scents like the citrus blooms of the T. diaguitensis and the nutmeg scent produced by the Tillandsia cyanea. 


Tillandsia air plant duratii in bloom

The T. duratii has blooms that are said to smell like grape soda 

7. Air plants grow offsets (pups) after blooming. The mother plant will often die after producing pups, and these can be removed when they are ⅓ the size of the mother plant. If left to grow they will form an impressive clump over time. Learn more about air plant propagation in our blog post "Air Plant Propagation: Pups!" 

Tillandsia air plant cacticola clump

This clump of the T. cacticola formed from pups being allowed to grow from the mother plant without removal.


8. Some air plants have pseudobulbs, such as the T. caput medusae, T. seleriana, T. pseudobaileyi, T. butzii, and T. streptophylla. A pseudobulb can be defined as a pronounced bulbous base that forms a bulb shape. They are considered pseudobulbs because most have empty cavities inside, where in the wild, ants form colonies. 


Tillandsia air plants with pseudobulbs


9. There are many hybrid air plants. The majority were hybridized by botanists and horticulturalists, but there are actually some that are naturally growing hybrids. The T. rectifolia is a naturally occurring hybrid between T. ionantha and T. schiedeana. This is considered an “introgressive species,” since it is a natural hybrid that has become so numerous that it is now considered its own species. 

Tillandsia air plant hybrids

10. One of the most popular air plants, the T. xerographica was almost poached to extinction in the 1980s. Since then, growers and exporters have had to adhere to strict regulations for the export and trade of these plants.

Tillandsia xerographica air plant