These rather unusual looking and highly evolved plants belong to the genera Tillandsia which form part of the Bromeliaceae family. The Bromeliaceae is a large family consisting 531 genera.
(Above: Nong-noosh bromeliad garden.)
One of the most familiar plant to you would be pineapple.
Tillandsias are epiphytic, meaning it grows on another plant or object upon which it depends for mechanical support but not for nutrients, their roots are mainly used to anchor. Some Tillandsias are aero-phytic, these plants have no roots and grow on shifting desert soil.
There are over 600 different species with more being discovered in the remote corners of Latin America are becoming more accessible. All Tillandsias come from Latin America with the exception of a few from the southern parts of the United States. Tillandsia usneoides “Spanish Moss” has the widest distribution from the southern U.S.A. throughout the Americas to Southern Chile. Air plants are found growing in from humid subtropical areas, moist montane forest to hot and dry thorn-shrub areas.
Some of the common Tillandsias.
Tillandsias absorb both moisture and nutrients direct through the leaves by means of highly developed leaf scales called Trichome. On many species, this covering of scales is so thick that the plant appears white or grey. The only source of nutrients for air plants is the dust and soil blowing around, bird droppings, atmospheric nitrogen and leaf debris from host trees. The roots of air plants are weakly developed as they serve largely to anchor the plant to a host, either a tree or a rock face.
Air plants are rosette-forming plants (with a few exceptions). They have terminal inflorescences which mean that the flower spike develops from the central growing point stopping any further development of that particular rosette. The rosette which has produced the flower spike will die back after the seeds have dispersed.
Beautiful Tillandsia flowers.
Either shortly before or after flowering, one or more side shoots will develop and these will usually flower the following year and will, in turn, produce offshoots (Also called a pup). In this way, large specimen plants are produced within a few years. They can be propagated reasonably quickly by removing the offshoots when they are half grown. These can be carefully twisted out or cut out and the remaining mother rosette will produce more offshoots.
The extreme environment inhabited by many air plants is the result of great adaptability and from this flows a wide tolerance of widely divergent cultural conditions making most air plants ideal house or garden plants. To grow air plants well and flower them regularly you need to consider only a few basic requirements.
Air plants must have fresh, circulating air! Air plants must have light! The greener the plant the less light, but not more than 50% shade. The greyer the plant, the more light it needs to almost full sun. Air plants must have water! During summer water daily, preferably late afternoon or evening. Water weekly in winter during the day and not in the evenings.
Air plants must have fertiliser! Use foliar feeding fertilisers for air plants as they absorb nutrients through leaves. This is best give by frequent but very weak solutions in the form of a spray or a dip.