Tillandsia ionantha

blushing bride airplant


Tillandsia ionantha

Planch. 1855

pronounced: till-AND-see-uh eye-oh-NAN-thuh

(Bromeliaceae — the bromeliad family)


common name: blushing bride airplant

The Tillandsia genus was named by Linnaeus for Elias Tillandz (1640–1693), Finno-Swedish physician and botanist known more for his fear of bodies of water than for his botany. Tillandsia don't need much water; and this may well be why the genus was named for Tillandz. Ionantha is from two Greek words, ιο– (io–), violet, and ανθος (anthos), a flower.

These are epiphytes that grow naturally in the high branches of trees, where they receive exposure to the sunlight that the canopy prevents from reaching the forest floor. The leaves of the Tillandsia possess tiny greyish-coloured scales called trichomes that both store water till it can be absorbed, and act to reflect intense sunlight from the leaf surface, thus preventing excessive water loss through evaporation.

Tillandsia ionantha is native from Mexico to Nicaragua, and grows on deciduous trees and rocks at an altitude of 600–1650 m. It has miniature rosettes of greyish green leaves reaching about 10 cm in height. It will grow in full sun or bright indirect light, and intermediate to warm temperatures. It will easily establish itself on a slab of bark, where it uses its roots to attach itself, and not to extract nutrients from the host – all its nutrients come from the air. While the plant is establishing itself, it should be regularly misted. The plant is easily propagated by the removal of offsets. There appear to be two types or varieties of the species: one with stubby leaves that blush pink when the plant is in flower, and the other with more upright leaves that stay permanently red. There is another form that has yellow-tipped leaves.

The state of Florida in the USA must be the world’s leading home for invasive species. One-third of Florida’s flora consists of naturalized plants, and the ecological damage and the cost of management is great. Florida can now claim another world-first: Tillandsia ionantha has naturalized there – the first time it has ever been discovered naturalized outside its native habitat, and only the second instance ever reported of the naturalization of a member of the genus. A total of 63 clusters of the plant was found on 31 pine trees adjacent to a mangrove forest near Dania Beach, Florida. The presence of flowers and germinating seeds indicate that the population is reproducing sexually. No pollination agent is known for this pollinator-dependent species at that location - as far as I can discover, this species is not self-pollinating, but a type of humming-bird acts as the pollinator.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2009
Page last updated 21st April 2019