Botanical Illustration: Tillandsia bergeri
Though the drawn specimen of Tillandsia bergeri shows a small plant, T. bergeri tends to allocate much of its energy into growing into large clusters, as seen in the photograph above. This native Brazilian species grows epiphytically (growing upon other plants) or lithophytically (growing upon rocks), and therefore do not require soil for growth. Plants that grow in this manner are often called “air plants”.
The genus Tillandsia belongs to a larger family of plants called Bromeliaceae, a group of plants native to the neotropics. Bromeliads hold a particularly important role for many ecosystems due to their stiff, often curved overlapping leaves that gather water at the base. Some organisms require water to complete some or all of their life cycle, and Bromeliads provide the perfect pool for amphibian and insect larvae, frogs and insects, snails, and many other organisms that require high levels of moisture or standing water. These pools might also provide food for predators. Not all Bromeliads are epiphytic, but those that are provide these convenient microclimates in hard to reach places, such as the branches of a tree.
Pineapples are a well-known example of a soil-dwelling Bromeliad, and are certainly the most economically significant, as they are grown extensively in the tropics and are distributed worldwide.