Air Plants Are Epiphytes

On a recent stroll through the Botanical Building in Balboa Park in San Diego, CA, I was inspired by all the amazing tropical plants they have on display there. It was super rad to see how big some of these tropical plants that a lot of us have as smaller houseplants can grow in their "natural" environment.

San Diego's climate can be categorized as a semi-arid Mediterranean climate. Meaning that it is semi-dry, with warm, mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. These subtropical conditions allow for a lot of tropical plants to grow well here.

One of my favorite of all the plants that I saw and that inspired me to write this post were the Tillandsias, commonly known as airplants. To see them actually growing as they would in their native habitats within the Botanic Building was pretty neato!

Typically we just see them in plant nurseries or gift shops placed in decorative containers or displayed willy nilly on a shelf somewhere. Which is totes cool and all, but nature in nature rules! 

Tillandsias are native to the cloud forests, mountains, and deserts of northern Mexico, South-eastern United States, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Tillandsias are in the Bromeliad family and are epiphytes in nature. Epi-huh?! You ask? Lemme explain..

The definition of an Epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic. (Does not harm the host plant). Tillandsia roots are used strictly to attach itself to the host plant. They do not need soil to survive, as they don't collect any nutrients through the root system like other plants do. 

Tillandsia roots attaching itself to a host plant.

Tillandsia roots attaching itself to a host plant.

 

Epiphytes derive their nutrients and water from the air, rain, and forest debri that collects from fallen leaves, bark, bird poo, etc and absorb it through their leaves with the help of trichomes. Tri-whuh?! Again with the boushie plant terms.. sorry, it's science.

Trichomes (pronounced tri-combs) are tiny little hairs (modified scales) that cover the entire surface of the plant's leaves. The trichomes absorb nutrients, rainfall and moisture form the air

Trichomes vary in size and density on plants depending on what region the Tillandsia is from. 

Some other plant varities that are epiphytes that you might recognize include the majority of mosses, liverworts and orchids, some fern varieties and most of the bromeliad family.

 

 

You can see a few different Tillandsias varieties here growing up a host tree. Also, how flippin' cute is that one little fern sprig poppin' out?!

You can see a few different Tillandsias varieties here growing up a host tree. Also, how flippin' cute is that one little fern sprig poppin' out?!

If you have never been to or haven't been in a long time, I highly recommend taking a leisurely stroll through the San Diego Botanic Building. You will find all kinds of living treasures that are sure to calm your mind and soothe your soul. Also, it's FREE! #noexcuses #getoutinnature