Tillandsia cyanea

pink quill


Tillandsia cyanea

Linden ex K.Koch 1867

pronounced: till-AND-see-uh sy-AN-ee-uh

(Bromeliaceae — the bromeliad family)


common name: pink quill

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. Cyanea is from the Greek κυανος (kyanos), dark blue.

The genus is native to the deserts, forests and mountains of Central and Southern America, Mexico, and the southern states of the USA. The thinner-leafed varieties grow in rainy areas, and the thick-leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Tillandsia are epiphytes, and normally use their roots only to attach themselves to the host plant. Moisture and nutrients are gathered from the air (dust, decaying leaves and insect matter) through special cells on the leaves, known as trichomes. The common name of ‘air plant’ is often used, as they apparently live on fresh air. Probably the best-known of the species is Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss, or Old Man’s Beard). Plants of this species hang from trees, and can grow to a couple of metres long. They are native to the Californian Everglades, where early settlers used them as stuffing for mattresses.

Tillandsia cyanea is a native of Ecuador. The foliage grows in a rosette of thin, recurved olive-green leaves, which are strong and tough, and the inflorescence is a plume of either pink or red bracts from which violet flowers emerge, one or two at a time. These flowers have a scent rather like cloves, especially in the mornings. The flat, sword-shaped single flower spike is displayed high above the rich foliage, and can last for several months.

Most bromeliads thrive in high humidity, and Tillandsia cyanea usually responds well to spraying with a light mist of water, especially when the relative humidity of the air is low. The usual method of propagation is from the offsets, or ‘pups’, thrown off by the plants. The pup is best left until it is about a third of the size of its mother. It should be cut off (not broken) as close to the mother as possible without damaging the parent plant. The pup should be allowed to dry for a day before planting out. The propagation is best done in the warmer, humid weather.

Spraying with insecticides, especially oil-based ones, can interfere with the nutrient-gathering function of the trichomes, and ‘chewing’ pests are best removed by hand. Scales should be scraped off with a fingernail.


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