Tillandsia Botanical Terms

Tillandsia Botanical Terms

by Megan Richards
So what does lithopyhtic or epiphytic mean? What in the world is an inflorescence? You might be curious about the different botanical terms that we use to describe air plants and may have wondered what they mean. The definitions themselves are pretty interesting, so we have compiled a list of some of the ones that come up most often in our blogs and product descriptions! 
Often air plants are described as being epiphytic. This can be defined as a plant that grows on another plant, but is not parasitic, such as an air plant anchoring its roots to a tree. Plants that are epiphytic include ferns, bromeliads, Tillandsia, and orchids. Since these plants aren’t parasitic, they get their nutrients from the air, rain, dew, and from detritus that falls from upper stories of the trees that they are anchored to. Also, it is important to note, most epiphytes don’t use their roots to absorb nutrients, they use them primarily to anchor themselves to another object.
caput medusae anchoring itself to cork with roots

A T. caput medusae using its roots to anchor to a piece of cork wood.


A lithophyte or saxicolous plant is a plant that grows on or amongst rocks. Think lichen or moss. Believe it or not, there are air plants that are also considered lithophytes. The T. tectorum is a prime example, they have adapted to their environments and grow amongst rocks and on roof tops in their native Peru. You might wonder how they get their nutrients if they live on rocks, but take one look at the T. tectorum and you will have your answer; trichomes! Succulents, Tillandsia, and cacti all have adaptations that allow them to live in environments that would be considered hostile to other plants.   

Tillandsia tectorum ecudaor air plant

The T. tectorum ecuador is a lithophyte and grows amongst rocks and on roofs in Peru

Caulescent means that a plant has a well defined stem above ground. In the case of Tillandsia, a caulescent plant is one that grows along a stem such as the T. funckiana, T. diaguitensis, T. paleacea, or T. ionantha vanhynnigii.


paleacea clump

The T. paleacea is a caulescent plant.

An inflorescence is a stiff “stem” that some plants emit during blooming and a group or cluster of flowers bloom from flower bracts that grow from this main stem. In the air plant world, the T. xerographica, T. concolor, and T. fasciculata tropiflora all have pretty impressive long lasting inflorescences.
Tillandsia fasciculata tropiflora

The T. fasciculata tropiflora has a beautiful long lasting inflorescence.

We have talked about trichomes before in our blog post All About Trichomes and Tillandsia Trichomes In-Depth. But to summarize, trichomes are the little “hairs” that your air plant has on its leaves that help it absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. Trichomes also help deter water loss in air plants that are found in drier regions. You might notice that some plants have an extra fuzzy appearance due to their trichomes such as the T. tectorum, T. paleacea, or T. harrisii, and this gives us an idea as to where these plants are native to; drier regions in high altitudes where water is scarce.


Tillandsia tectorum peru

The tectorum peru has an abundance of trichomes that give it a frosted appearance.

We have also talked about pups/offsets in a previous article All about air plant propagation. So to summarize, offsets or pups as they are commonly called, start to grow once a mother plant has bloomed. You can consider these air plant babies. After blooming you might notice pups forming at the base of the mother plant under a leaf, or directly out of the base. You can safely remove the offset once it is about ⅓ the size of the mother plant. You might even notice that your plant has multiple offsets which you can leave to form a clump, or you can remove them so that you now have multiple plants.
Tillandsia ionantha air plant with pup

This T. ionantha guatemala has a little offset just beginning to grow.