Air Plants - Tillandsia

This section contains: Articles about Tillandsia, Bromeliads & Epiphytes written by others.

Further reading about Air Plants



The term epiphyte refers to any plant that grows upon or attached to another living plant. The term stems from the Greek epi- (meaning 'upon') and phyton (meaning 'plant'). These plants are sometimes called "air plants" because they do not root in soil. However, there are many species of algae, including seaweeds, that are epiphytes on other aquatic plants (seaweeds or aquatic angiosperms).


The plant genus Tillandsia (Bromeliad family) is found in the deserts, forests and mountains of central and south America, Mexico and the southern United States, growing on trees, rocks and cliffs. The thinner leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Nutrients are gathered from the air (dust, decaying leaves and insect matter) through structures on the leaves called trichomes. Tillandsias are epiphytes, i.e. in nature they normally grow on other plants, without being parasitic, and they grow without soil.


Bromeliads include epiphytes, such as Spanish moss, and ground plants, such as the pineapple. Many bromeliads have a "cup" formed by their tightly-overlapping leaves, in which they store water. However, the family is diverse enough to include the cup-type epiphytes, grey-leaved Tillandsias (which gather water only from leaf structures called trichomes), and even a large number of desert-dwelling succulents.

Spanish moss

Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is not a moss at all, but a flowering plant in the Family Bromeliaceae (bromeliade) that grows hanging from tree branches in full sun or partial shade from the Southeastern United States through Argentina where ever the warm climate has a relatively high average humidity. The plant thallus consists of thin, curved or curly, heavily scaled "leaves" that grow vegetatively in chain-like fashion (pendant) to form hanging structures up to several feet in length.



Tillandsia Ionantha