Strange little plants are the tillandsia. They don’t have stalks, roots, or even leaves that even remotely resemble leaves. Oh, and they don’t live in the earth and don’t need any soil at all. Additionally, they are connected to pineapples.
The southern US, the Caribbean, and South and Central America are home to more than 500 distinct species of Tillandsia. In the Tampa Bay region, five species are present, but only two are frequently encountered. Botanists refer to Tillandsia recurvata as “Ball Moss” and Tillandsia usneoides as “Spanish Moss” respectively. The familiar Spanish moss forms loose, dangling clumps that drape over tree branches like a greenish waterfall, whereas Ball moss (more commonly known by its common name, Ball moss) forms tight, dangling clumps that drape over tree branches like a greenish waterfall “(Air plants) often grow along twigs and small branches like beads on a necklace and take the shape of loose globular balls ranging in size from golf ball to softball.
The air plants don’t grow in the earth, as their name suggests. Instead, they develop perched on the twigs and branches of other plants, growing suspended in the air. However, in the South, they can be seen on almost any elevated surface where they can locate the microhabitat they prefer—shaded places with humid air. They are most frequently observed on the shaded inner branches of the common live oak tree. Tillandsia aren’t parasites; their scientific name is “Epiphytes only need their host plant as a support to keep them in place off the ground; they do not consume any nutrients or water from it (which can easily be verified by the fact that air plants often grow on long-dead wood like fences or telephone poles, or even on inorganic supports like utility wires or barbed-wire fences). The Tillandsia prefer to colonize shady bare branches that are already dead or dying, contrary to the popular misconception that air plants will harm the tree branches on which they get established. They cause absolutely no damage to their host plants.
The Tillandsia, despite their botanical name “Ball mosses are perennial flowering plants in the Bromeliad family, which are closely related to pineapples. They are not true mosses. The leaves resemble long conical tentacles, are often silvery-grey in color, and appear to be covered with tiny scales ” (these scales are known as “trichomes, and they help the plant absorb water and nutrients from the air). The blooms, which resemble tiny blue spikes at the end of a projecting stalk, can bloom all year long. They are followed by club-shaped greenish-brown seed capsules. The wind disperses the ripe seeds, each carried away on a tuft of fibers that resemble hair, until it lands on a suitable tree branch and starts to grow. It uses minute tendrils that resemble roots to anchor itself to the tree until the long tubes of leaves can wrap around and hold it in place. Each fragment of a ball that is ripped apart will develop into a new air plant.
As with all green plants, the leaves perform photosynthesis, which provides the plant with food. They are also designed to quickly absorb any moisture, whether it comes in the form of rain, fog, dew, or runoff. The plants become dormant and store water inside their leaves during the dry season. Tillandsia are accustomed to very low levels of nutrients due to the lack of roots and soil; they obtain all the minerals they require from rainwater and the organic dust and dirt that accumulates onto the leaves. However, a sudden big dosage of nutrients can actually poison the plant and cause it to die. They are hence very slow growth. Additionally, tillandsia employ bacteria found in their trichome scales to draw nitrogen from the air and convert it into nitrates, which can be used as fertilizer by plants (something very few plants can do). As a result, the decaying remains of dead Tillandsia that eventually fall to the ground and feed other plants by adding nitrogen to the soil.
The commercial houseplant trade uses air plants frequently, and they are frequently used as decorative accents on pieces of driftwood or rock since they are small, aesthetically pleasing, hardy, and little maintenance. They are frequently used as ornamental, slow-growing plants for terrestrial terrariums. They only require a little bit of light and a sprinkle of rain every few days.
Does Florida have wild air plants?
The majority of air plants can be found growing naturally in places like the West Indies, Mexico, Central America, and South America. Some can even be found there. The T. fasciculata, as well as other air plants and Bromeliads, grow natively in the wild in the Everglades here in Florida, particularly in the southern region of the state. Additionally, Spanish moss, also known as T. usneoides, which is a member of the Tillandsia family and not a moss at all, can be seen growing in trees in the southern United States.
The majority of air plants can be found in the wild in the regions and nations shown on this map.
Looking at the locations where air plants are located, we may learn a lot about how to care for them and what traits particular air plants might have. The leaves of air plants from wet areas may be greener and prefer more moisture and indirect light. These plants are categorized as “mesic.” On the other hand, plants from drier areas may have lighter grayish green leaves, show more trichomes, and be more tolerant of both sunlight and water. These are viewed as “xeric.” In our blog post “Mesic vs. Xeric Air Plants,” you can read more about mesic and xeric plants.
Consider the drought-resistant Tillandsia tectorum as an example. This fuzzy little plant has trichomes all over it, which enable it to take in nutrients from the surrounding air. T. tectorum naturally flourishes in the dry coastal deserts of Peru and Ecuador’s high Andean slopes, where rainfall is scarce. They utilize the moisture they can from low-lying clouds in the high mountains and near the shore using their profusion of fuzzy trichomes. You should consider the T. tectorum’s native environment when taking care of these plants. As they are used to in the wild, they want less water, more sunshine, and good air circulation.
Can you collect wild air plants?
Did you know that xerographica air plants were on the verge of extinction less than 25 years ago? The xerographica was so widely used in home design and is a must-have for serious air plant collectors! How was this possible to happen? Since the trade in Tillandsia (air plants) was mostly unregulated in the 1980s, it was possible to harvest xerographica and other tillandsia plants for commerce directly from the wild. The T. xerographica was thankfully listed as an endangered/protected species by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which prevented the export of air plants from South America for several years.
Moving forward, growers in South America were permitted to start spreading the xerographica under the careful supervision of CITES inspectors and local governments. As a result of these farmed xerographica plants, we started to see a resurgence of xerographica plants on the market in the 2000s. Did you realize that the miniature xerographica plants we sell are actually seedlings that are 4-5 years old? After blooming, the slow-growing xerographica plants often only produce two to three offsets, and these can take years to develop.
Growers in Guatemala are sometimes forced to keep one out of every three puppies or offsets that produce according to CITES regulations in order to promote the regrowth of mother plants. Additionally, in order to sell xerographica plants, growers must acquire licenses certifying that their plants were raised in nurseries rather than being foraged from the wild.
Additionally, Harrisii plants are listed as endangered by CITES. Growers must adhere to the same rules as they do with the propagation and trading of xerographica plants because these slow-growing plants were also virtually poached to extinction in the wild.
Volunteers have started saving and moving endangered wild Florida Tillandsia species, like the T. utriculata (wild pine, huge air plant) and the T. fasciculata, in Southeast Florida (cardinal air plant). Due to their vivid red flowers, cardinal air plants are among the most sought-after plants that illegal collectors attempt to take from Florida swamplands in the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Over the years, park rangers have detained a number of individuals who attempted to smuggle these and other plants out of the park, where they might eventually find up in backyard gardens and plant nurseries.
First, check sure the Tillandsia you purchase has been responsibly raised or cultivated and comes from a supplier that has all the necessary CITES permits. Ask if you’re unsure. Anyone conducting business ethically will be pleased to provide you with the necessary information. We make certain that all the plants we bring in from Guatemala adhere to these strict regulations and even have licenses proving that we are authorized to bring in protected species like the xerographica and harrisii. You may be confident that we make every effort to get plants that are grown sustainably and do not negatively affect Tillandsia populations in the wild.
In our greenhouse, we have many pups from different plants, such the ionantha, xerographica, funckiana, pseudobaileyi, aeranthos, concolor, schiedeana, and many more! We also allow plants to generate offsets after they have bloomed! We remove these “pups” whenever they are at least one-third the size of the mother plant, let them mature, and then ship them to one of you when you place an order!
Check out this article about air plant propagation to learn more about puppies!
In our greenhouse, a T. xerographica pup or offset was removed from a mother plant.
Second, refrain from harvesting Tillandsia in the wild. Don’t do it at all. Although it is cool to see an air plant or bromeliad tucked in a tree, we are aware that it might be rather enticing. However, even if it might look fantastic in your house, leave it in the wild where it belongs to grow and flourish.
Do air plants exist in Florida?
The pineapple family Bromeliaceae includes bromeliads. They are woodless perennial herbs that usually grow on other plants or other substrates. Contrary to what some of their common names imply, bromeliads are not mosses. Despite having tiny blooms, they are flowering plants.
All 16 of Florida’s native bromeliad species and two naturally occurring hybrids are epiphytic, which means they grow on other plants. Natural hybrids are created when two species cross-pollinate and give birth to new offspring. Epiphytes may connect root structures to their host plant, but they only use it as support and do not parasitize it.
Bromeliads, also known as “air plants,” get their water and surface minerals via trichomes, which are specialized disc-shaped leaf structures. Some bromeliads in Florida are “tank” bromeliads, which store water in the spaces between the leaf axils. A large tank can be created by combining several small or numerous leaf axils, which are the spaces between the leaves and the stem. The trichomes lining the bromeliad tanks absorb the decomposing plant components (leaves, seeds, and twigs) that have been trapped by bacteria and fungi. Non-aquatic insects that are dead and drowning are occasionally found among these plant materials; these insects serve as a source of food for the bromeliads. A species of tank bromeliad called Catopsis berteroniana, which is located in south Florida, has developed the capacity to capture insects and utilize the nutrients to the point that it is virtually a carnivorous plant. Mosquito larvae and other small invertebrate and vertebrate creatures can also find a home in bromeliad aquariums. As a result, bromeliads perform significant ecological functions in nutrient cycling and habitat creation.
Each of Florida’s 16 native bromeliad species is described in detail in this page, along with any specific conservation issues. Additionally, Florida is home to two other naturally occurring hybrids that aren’t included in this article: Tillandsia bartramii x fasciculata and Tillandsia balbisiana x fasciculata. When referring to the approximate length of leaves, bracts, flowers, and seed capsules, the symbol ” has been employed.
Where can you find air plants in the wild?
Air plants are one of nature’s many wonders and by far one of the most unusual plant species. We will discuss what they are, how to best care for them, how to display them, and our top three favorites in this journal.
A Brief Overview
Tillandsia, the Latin word for air plants, are indigenous to South and Central America’s mountains, deserts, and woods, and certain varieties can even be found in the southern United States. Air plants grow on and around trees because they are epiphytic, but they are not parasitic. Instead, they absorb nutrients from the air and sporadic rainfall through their leaves. Their leaves have layers of trichomes, which are small, hair-like structures that are silver in color and help the plants easily absorb water. Unexpectedly, the tiny roots that air plants have serve to hold the plant to a surface rather than to absorb nutrition. It’s normal practice to trim the roots off of plants before bringing them indoors for a cleaner appearance.
Air plants have a predictable life cycle, in contrast to many other tropical indoor plants. Years after reaching maturity, the air plant will blossom, with the majority of the blooms featuring extremely strong violets, pinks, reds, and oranges. After they have blossomed, the mother air plant will gradually start to generate offshoots known as “pups.” You can carefully remove these pups, which will grow into new, healthy air plants once they are roughly one-third the size of the mother plant. Following this stage, the mother plant will gradually start to die, leaving behind a sizable number of baby air plants, and the cycle will then begin again.
You can be sure that air plants don’t require (or even particularly appreciate) that kind of harsh, direct sunlight, despite the fact that some of them may resemble succulents, cacti, and other light-loving plants in appearance. Since air plants typically grow around the shady canopies of trees in their natural habitat, they enjoy bright indirect light when housed indoors [find out more about lighting here].
Contrary to popular belief, air plants do need water to survive and can’t thrive on air alone.
Once a week, immerse your air plant in water for about an hour. After giving the air plant its weekly wash, gently shake it out to get rid of any extra water that may have gotten between its leaves. Before returning your air plant to its normal position, turn it upside down for a couple of hours to let any remaining water drain from the plant. By doing this, your air plant’s risk of developing rot is significantly reduced. Your air plant will have a longer, happier life if you follow these maintenance advice.
Ways to Display
Because air plants don’t require soil (i.e., a container) to survive, one of its most intriguing characteristics is that they may be placed almost anyplace. They can be displayed in a transparent glass container with pea gravel to support them or left alone on a desk or countertop to give off a more natural appearance. There are countless options.
This tiny T. tectorum specimen resembles a fuzzy snowball. Because of the abundance of its silvery trichomes, it can tolerate extreme heat and drought.
T. xerogrpahica: These air plants, sometimes known as the queen of the air plants, can grow to be quite large. They form a rosette and have long, silvery-green leaves that spiral around one another.
T. streptophylla: This air plant, which is bulbous and has ringlet-like leaves, curls more tightly the longer it goes without water.
I hope this post has helped you learn a little bit more about air plants. They are wonderful plants that everyone ought to use. Please feel free to ask any more questions regarding them in the section below.