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The Genus Tillandsia

The genus Tillandsia is truly the most successful genus in the bromeliad family. The most widespread and the most numerous, they are found in just about every niche in the New World. They are commonly called 'air plants' or 'atmospherics' since they seem to grow hanging in the air. Typically they grow as epiphytes on trees or rocks. Frequently people think they are parasites or detrimental to the trees that they grow on, but they only use the trees as support.


The reason they are so successful is their ability to survive and thrive in so many different climates as epiphytes. Growing on trees (left), shrubs, and on rocks (below) affords them a niche that is much less crowded with aggressive plants that would otherwise outgrow and shade them out from the sun.

Due to the wide range of climactic conditions that they live in and the various substrates they grow on there are an amazing number of different forms that these plat take. Typically we think of large, colorful inflorescences like the Tillandsia eizii (above) that attract pollinators. But some species have extremely small flowers that you almost need a magnifying glass to see. The flowers of Spanish Moss' (Tillandsia usneoides)--yes, a flowering plant and a bromeliad and not a moss or lichen!--are small, greenish colored (below) and produce a sweet fragrance.

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