Sunday, December 12, 2010


While it's no secret that bromeliads or tillandsias do not grow here in the desert southwest on their own(or not that I am aware of); they do make a nice plant to have inside the house.  During our bi-annual 4th Avenue Street Fair, Jayne Hawley comes from California to sell these plants at her stand.  Below is information on how to grow these fun plants around your own household.  In my travels, I have found that these plants live up in the trees off of branches etc and are really cool looking in the wild.  In Guatemala, around Tikal National Park, you'll see these guys covering trees and falling all over the ground in the rain forest.
Tillandsias grow naturally in South and Central America and southern parts of the United States.  They are in the Bromeliad Family, and are sometimes referred to as "air plants."  Hundreds of different varieties grow on trees, rocks, cliffs, and various types of cacti.  Thin-leaf varieties grow in areas with more rain, and thick-leaf varieties in areas more subject to drought.  No soil is needed to grow these unique plants.  All water and nutrients are taken through the leaves!  Tillandsias have a growth cycle starting with one plant growing to maturity and then blooming.  One to two months after the bloom has finished, new plants form around the base of the "mother" plant.  They will then eventually mature and complete their blooming cycle in one to several years, depending upon the variety and growing conditions.  Tillandsias can be placed in, shells, pottery, driftwood, around water fountains, reptile tanks, etc.  Tillandsias are not toxic to animals, and they travel and ship well.

Light Requirements:  Bright, indirect light, flourescent office lighting, or frost protected shaded patio.  Generally, no direct sun is recommended.  Some varieties can handle some early morning sun-this will allow them to "blush" before they bloom.  To water.  This is a very important aspect of succeeding with tillandsias.  Remove plants from their containers and spray heavily, or rinse them under a faucet or hose until they are dripping wet (underneath as well as on top).  Remember, they grow naturally where it rains.  Frequency of watering will depend on:  temperature variations...summer vs. winter, whether it is indoors or outdoors, and the variety of tillandsia with either thick or think leaves.  Generally, with the spray or rinse method, you should water indoor tillandsias 2-3 times a week, and outdoor tillandsias 4-5 times a week.  In warmer and drier conditions like Tucson, an overnight soaking (24-36 hours) will re-hydrate them more efficiently than spraying or rinsing.  If leaf edges begin to curl in, then it is best to use the soaking method.  Fertilizer.  Use bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22) twice a month.  It is great for blooming and reproduction. 

Do touch the plant.  Familiarize yourself with it.  After a good soaking, the leaves are stiff and full of water.  Upon dehydration the leaves will be softer to the touch, and the plant will become lighter in color.
Remember to shake off excess water after watering especially in the large fleshy varieties.  Turn upside down and let the base dry before putting it back in its container. Give tall, think-leaf varieties an extra spray on their tips, as they dry out faster.  Place plants in containers with natural holes, as opposed to gluing them. This will make it much easier to water them, especially when you use the soaking method.  And you don't have to wait for the whole container to dry before putting it back in its' place.  If unsure when to water, pull at an outer leaf.  If it comes off easily, it is still wet.  If it is very hard to pull off, it is usually on the dry side and is in need of water.  Trim away any brown, dried or injured(bent)leaves.  Cut off bloomed out flower when its' color dries up.  Trim dried "mother" plant away after new plants have formed.  If more than one new plant has formed, they can be removed once they reach half the size of the mother plant.
The Don'ts.  Don't worry about roots.  Don't leave water sitting in the crevices of big fleshy tillandsias. Don't put them in containers that hold moisture around the base....they will rot and die!  Don't throw any tillandsias away if there is any green left to the plants.  Soak them 24-36 hours!  Don't soak the flower while in bloom.  Don't water plants in clumps as much, as clumped tillandsias hold more moisture.  Don't combine thick-and-thin leaf varieties in the same container since their watering schedules will be different.  And DON'T let them freeze.

Reason Tillandsias Die.  They were initially not cared for properly as their owner was told they need little or no water.  Thick and thin varieties were in the same container.  They did not get enough light or they were place in direct careful....I've been guilty of both  and of course, if you give too much water and they will rot.
These pics were taken from a Jayne Hawley's stand at the 4th Ave St. Fair.  For more information on these wonderful plants, contact Jayne at P.O. Box 2361, Monterey, CA 93940.  Telephone (831)224-0491 or email at .   Her company is called THE EARTHLINGS .  There isn't a website, but she did give me prices for the different varieties of tillandsias she offers from her shop.  Until next time, happy adventures!


  1. You summed up tillies quite nicely! Are there any that you've seen do better in a freeze? I've read that some, like ionatha can be grown in southern England if covered. Do you want me to count this as an entry in my contest? :)

  2. I love Tillandsia but for some reason have never had any. You've inspired me to start looking for some!

  3. Gentlemen!! So good to hear from both of you. Rainforest Gardener...yes...that would be an exciting question....also in my research, it says cacti???? I'm thinking cloud forest cacti and then yes, tillandsias do grow on or with that type of for example, the "Christmas" cactus. This can be seen in the cloud forests of Costa Rica nearby the capital of San Jose....fascinating and spooky forest!! Braulio Carrillo...highly recommended:)


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