Hundreds of Blushing Tillandsia Ionantha Guatemala Air Plants

Where Do Air Plants Grow in the Wild?

1 comment by Jamie Beck

There are over 600 different species of Tillandsia (air plants) growing in various regions of the world. Most air plants are found in humid rainforest climates, but some can even be found in less than hospitable environments. Air plants can be found growing in trees, amongst rocks, in deserts, in rainforests, on cliffs and rock faces, and even on cacti.


Tillandsia air plant climates


Photo Credits: L- Climate Policy Watcher  Center- Matt Tilghman Photography  R- Eagle Eye Adventures

Most air plants are native to areas such as the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and South America, and some are even found growing in the southern United States. Here in Florida, especially in the southern part of the state, the T. fasciculata among other air plants and Bromeliads grow naturally in the wild in the Everglades. We also have Spanish moss growing in trees here in the south, which is actually not a moss at all, but is part of the the Tillandsia family, and is called T. usneoides. 


World map of where Tillandsia air plants are found

This map shows the regions/countries where most air plants are found in the wild. 

If we take a look at where air plants are found, it can dictate a lot about their care, and has an effect on the characteristics that specific air plants might have. Air plants from humid regions might exhibit greener leaves, and prefer more moisture and indirect light. We classify these plants as “mesic.” On the other hand, plants that are from drier regions might have lighter grayish green leaves, display more trichomes, and can withstand less water and more sunlight. These are considered “xeric.” Learn more about mesic and xeric plants in our blog post “ Mesic vs Xeric Air Plants.” 

Tillandsia air plants mesic vs xeric


Take for example the drought tolerant Tillandsia tectorum. One look at this fuzzy little plant, you will notice that it is covered in trichomes, which help it absorb nutrients from the air. The T. tectorum grows naturally in the high mountains of the Andes in Ecuador, and coastal deserts in Peru, both places where moisture is limited. They use their abundance of fuzzy trichomes to absorb the moisture that they can from low-lying clouds in the high mountains and along the coast. In the case of the T. tectorum, you should keep in mind its native environment when caring for these plants. They prefer less water, more light, and good air circulation, as that is what they are accustomed to in the wild.


Tillandsia tectorum air plant

The fuzzy Tillandsia tectorum 


Again, if we will look to another plant as an example, the T. cacticola. This plant got its name “cacticola” due to the fact that it grows on cacti! This is also a drought tolerant plant with silvery leaves and abundant trichomes. It is found naturally in northern Peru, at elevations of 2000 meters above sea level. Knowing this, we know to give it more light, and less water. 


Tillandsia cacticola air plant

Drought tolerant Tillandsia cacticola 


On the other hand, we have plants such as the T. brachycaulos. Native to Mexico, Central America, and Venezuela it grows on trees in oak and pine forests. You could consider these plants "mesic" as they prefer more humidity and moisture and more indirect light due to their native environment of a rainforest. So generally, we would want to ensure that they receive adequate water each week and indirect light to mimic its natural environment. 


Tillandsia brachycaulos abdita air plant


As you can see, air plants are very adaptable and can be found in many different environments and climates. Have you ever seen air plants growing in the wild where you live? 

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