34. Krulik, Jerry, " Do You Know Where ALL Your Tillandsias Are?", PUP TALK (Saddleback Valley
Bromeliad Society), 13(9), p.7-8, September, 2006.

Tillandsias are the most fascinating type of Bromeliad, to me. One of their unusual characteristics is
their seed dispersal mechanism. Most of the Bromeliad family seem to use animals and birds to get
their seed to new locations. This is great when you want to deposit your seed in places where birds
and animals will hide, and with their own fertilizer boost too!  Just look at the juicy berries of Ananas
(Pineapple), Pseudoananas, Aechmaea, Porteria, Bilbergia, and many others. I always wonder when
some modern-day Luther Burbank is going to start selectively breeding some of them, to give a new
wonder fruit. The American Indians started it with the Pineapple, but nothing more seems to have been
done with bromeliads. Yet we have lots of new fruit examples, like the Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus
cactus), Kiwi Fruit (the original one was much smaller), Boysenberry, Pluot, and such. In Victorian
times, even the odd white, druse-filled fruit of the Monstera deliciosa or Split-Leaved Philodendron was
grown in British greenhouses to tantalize the adventurous appetite.  

Other Bromeliads seem to have no special long-distance dispersal mechanism. This includes the
Puyas, Dykias, Hectias and such. They are content to just let their dry capsules pop open, and spray
their seed upon the grown near themselves. Strong winds or small animals may help disperse them,
but not as well as when the seeds are encapsulated by a shielding layer of tasty flesh.

Tillandsias belong to that select group which use the wind for long and short distance dispersal. Take
a look at Tillandsia usenoides, for example. While each tiny piece of stem is capable of growing into a
new plant, it usually does not make the leap to another tree. True, birds will use it to line their nests,
and it will occasionally make its escape into a new tree canopy. Or hurricanes can disperse it. The wind
borne seeds seem to be the main reason that this is the mostly widespread Tillandsia. It is found from
about North Carolina down into Argentina.

Probably everyone has a piece of T. usenoides. Even if you have never looked at it closely, it has
probably been flowering away with its tiny yellow-green flowers. They often set seed, so look at your
plants closely for an open seed pod. The seeds are attached to a silken parachute, like the dandelion.
However, these wind-dispersed seeds are similar to, and different from, dandelion, thistle, and other
types of seeds. With the thistle, the parachute is on top of the seedpod, and the seed is attached to the
pod. The wind easily detaches the seed from the pod, and the race is on! But, these are ground
growing plants. The seed can theoretically grow anywhere it breaks off from the parachute.

Tillandsias are different, with perhaps the majority of species preferring, or downright needing, to live in
trees. The seeds reflect the need to get the new plants to where they can grow. Look at the T.
usenoides seedpod, and gently dissect it. The silken parachute is on the inside of the pod, with the
seed sticking out in the air. This is the reverse of the more common type of air dispersed seed. The
seeds seem to stick well to rough surfaces too, where they hopefully can germinate and grow.

What does this have to do with the title of this piece? Well, any collection which is fairly mature (say 5
years old or more) may well have tiny little seedlings hidden around, or on, the other plants. I was
prompted to write this as I watered a large succulent plant, the giant fig known as Dorstenia gigas. I
found a small seedling or cluster on the stem (see photos). Another older volunteer Tillandsia, which
has flowered for me, grows happily on the stems of Euphorbia capurona. Then there is the one on the
spine cluster of Pachypodium lamerei. I have seen them on older Pelargonium stems too. One plant
was found when I was weeding the ground, and I glanced up under some hanging pots, where it had
germinated attached directly to my fence. I did not get out the ladder to take pictures of the Tillandsias
on my patio cover. Several years ago I was clearing out old vine stems from the cover, and nestled in
among the Pandorea and Passion Flower vines was a hidden nursery bed of tiny plants, shielded from
the hot sun.

I am sure that I have more examples of hidden, wind-dispersed Tillansias all over my yard. I must add
that I have never seen any seedlings of any of the juicy fruit type Bromeliads in my yard, despite the
abundant rat and bird population since I gave away my cat. The only other Bromeliad seedlings I
occasionally find are the Puyas and other dry-fruited types, so they must be doing something right too.

Dorstenia gigas and seedling(s?)

Tillandsia flowering size plant on Euphorbia capuronii

Tillandsia seedling growing on wood of fence,
underneath hanging ceramic pot.

Tillandsia seedling growing on spine of Pachypodium lamerei fieriensis