Tillandsia bulbosa is an air plant native to hot climates. It is naturally found across Central and South America and in the West Indies.
It’s an interesting plant that displays long, tendril-like foliage that twists and contorts into wonderful shapes and produces prominent tubular flowers red or pink petals, lavender purple tips, and yellow stamens from early spring through to mid-summer.
It generally grows to a maximum length of around 4” (10cm) and helps add texture and a sense of the wild to a variety of settings.
It is one of the easier air plants to grow and, as with any houseplant, the key to success is trying to replicate its natural conditions as closely as possible.
Tillandsias are Bromeliad epiphytes. This means they rely on their tiny roots to anchor them to surfaces such as tree bark or driftwood.
The roots, though, don’t provide any nutrients. Instead, this function is carried out by the leaves.
Tillandsia bulbosa will often attach itself to trees as it is afforded plenty of indirect sunlight which it thrives upon.
Tillandsia bulbosa Care
To water your Tillandsia bulbosa spray it 2-3 times per week to keep it healthy. The ideal temperature range is between 70-80°F (21-27 °C) during the day and 60 and 65°F (16-18 °C) at night. A humidity of 50 -70% is preferred for this air plant to take up humidity. Fertilize every 2-3 weeks and make sure there is good air circulation.
Where to grow Tillandsia bulbosa
This plant likes rough, acidic surfaces. Bark, cork, and logs, or any similar surface will give it plenty to grip to.
You can grow it in pots as long as the soil is well-drained and enriched with lots of organic matter. The sandy soils of Florida are usually well-drained and can adequately support growing Tillandsia bulbosa.
The important thing to remember is that Tillandsia bulbosa requires an abundance of indirect sunlight.
If placed in a location where it will get the full heat of the sun, the leaves are likely to become burnt. A little direct sunlight in the morning or early evening is fine and your plant will appreciate being placed outside during these times.
While some air plants have trichomes (hairs that attract water), Tillandsia bulbosa does not. This means it requires more water than some other air plants.
I recommend that you spray it 2-3 times per week to keep your plant in a healthy condition. It’s wise to water it more in the summer months and it can be beneficial to imitate its natural conditions by soaking it once in a while.
Just remember that in its native habitat, a good soaking in the rain is followed by intense heat which dries it out, so you’ll need to pay attention to drying the base of the plant to prevent it from rotting.
Most of the problems faced when growing any air plant are associated with rot caused by too much moisture.
They are naturally hardy plants when it comes to water supply and can withstand long periods of drought so it is better to underwater than to overwater.
Tillandsia bulbosa does best at temperatures of between 70-80°F (21-27 °C) during the day and 60 and 65°F (16-18 °C) by night.
It will not tolerate very cold temperatures very and should not be exposed to anything cooler than 40°F.
When kept indoors, the central heating system should prevent it from ever getting too cold so keeping the plant out of direct sunlight and excessive temperatures is more important than worrying about it getting too cold.
Tillandsia bulbosa prefers humidity of around 50 -70% as that allows it to drink up the moisture in the air.
Most homes have humidity well below this which is why spraying or misting your plant regularly is crucial.
To increase the humidity in your home, you can install a humidifier. But a more cost-effective way to provide the best conditions for your plant is often to place your bark or driftwood on a bed of gravel.
If you water the gravel, as it evaporates it provides added humidity. If you choose to do this, why not make the gravel a feature so it adds both practicality and aesthetics?
Outside of the growing season Tillandsia bulbosa requires little or no fertilizer. When it is actively growing, you can apply fertilizer in the same way that you water it – by spraying.
Fertilizer, though, will only need to be sprayed once every 2-3 weeks. Most hardware stores sell generic Bromeliad fertilizer sprays, but you can also find specialized ones for Tillandsias.
If you want a specialized fertilizer but can’t find one in the shops, they are widely available online.
If you have a pond or aquarium, you can take a little of that water and spray it on your plant to act as a natural fertilizer.
Tillandsia bulbosa requires good air circulation. The fresh air supplies them with vital carbon dioxide and moisture and prevents them from becoming stagnant.
It will also lessen the chances of mold or fungal infections. Air circulation can be improved by simply opening a window or turning on a fan.
Propagating Tillandsia bulbosa
Propagating plants is one of the joys of gardening or keeping houseplants. The most popular method of propagating air plants, though, is from offshoots.
Mature Tillandsia bulbosa will produce ‘pups’ which can be separated and grown individually. Growing from seed will take longer but is generally considered to produce stronger plants.
If you want to collect seeds from your existing Tillandsia bulbosa, you will need to wait until it blooms and then pollinate it. Seed pods will also be brown, and appear in the place of blooms.
When the seed pod opens up, it will look a little bit like a dandelion head. Use tweezers to collect the seeds.
You may notice little green nubbins on some of the brown seeds. This just where the seeds have already begun to propagate so they are nothing to worry about – in fact they just make your life easier!
Brown, dry seeds should be soaked in water for up to 14 days but any with the green nubbins already appearing won’t require that step.
You can keep the brown seeds in a lidded container and but you should take the lid off once a day to allow airflow and to check on them.
As you see the green nubbins appear on the seeds, you can take them out. Some seeds may take up to 4 weeks to begin the germination process but any that still no begun to germinate after this time should be discarded.
Once your seeds are ready, you will need a suitable substrate. This could be tree fern substrate, jute, sphagnum moss, or just an old pair of nylon tights.
The important thing is that your substrate holds moisture but does not become soggy.
Think about the natural environment of the plant. Organic matter such as tree fern substrate or sphagnum moss can be susceptible to mold so, in the same way, that you would mist your living plants, the seeds should also be sprayed little and often.
If it is your first time growing Tillandsia bulbosa from seed, try a few different substrates to find out which is best for you.
Some people find Velcro a great medium for growing air plants so why not give that a try too?
The seeds should be well-spaced out to give them plenty of room and to make your own life easier when it comes to handling the young, fragile plants.
This process requires patience. You can expect to see small seedlings appear within 4-8 weeks.
To give them the best possible chance, your seeds should be placed in an area of bright, indirect sunlight. They should not be kept in direct sunlight and you should try to provide humidity and airflow.
If your substrate begins to grow mold, you will need to transplant your seeds or seedlings to the fresh substrate.
Carefully remove them and think about why the mold appeared. Understanding what went wrong will help you prevent it from happening again.
The whole process is a lengthy one. It can take up to two years for Tillandsia bulbosa to reach 1-2” and they may not reach full maturity for up And then, up to 5-8, even 10 years to reach maturity (will vary with species of tillandsia).
Tillandsia bulbosa is a delightful plant that will enhance any home. Its wiry, chaotic shape adds vibrancy while its diminutive size prevents it from taking over.
And the beautiful flowers provide a splash of color when they are in bloom. This is an intriguing plant that is easy to grow and requires very little in the way of maintenance.
Like succulents and cacti, when it comes to providing the ideal conditions for Tillandsia bulbosa, less is more.
Most problems can be resolved by amending its location or conditions and the biggest thing to avoid is too much watering which can cause it to rot.
Other than that, it is difficult to do much wrong and you should be able to enjoy this plant for years to come with very little effort.
But for those who have more time on their hands or like a challenge, growing Tillandsia bulbosa from seeds or pups can be a very rewarding pastime too.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.