Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pensive Tuesday: Are Tillandsias the Future?

I was very surprised to learn that the genus Tillandsia evolved in the Andean region at the beginning of the Tertiary Period (about 65million to 2ish million years ago). They are late-comers to Earth's plant party, and very highly evolved. They've mostly given up on roots (and therefore, dirt), and ditched stomata for trichomes. They can live in some of the most difficult environments on the planet, from the tropics to the high deserts, from sea-level to some of the highest mountains. But might they become an important part of the human world?
A Tangle of Tillandsia

Many human habitations suffer from bad air. Low oxygen, high smog. A real mess. Plants have been used for centuries to clean and oxygenate the air in houses, but there's always that  problem of...dirt, which most of us don't like to have in the house. I mean, it's messy! But Tillandsias gave up dirt a long time ago, which brings me to....
Tillies are tidy.

Symbiosis! Many species have evolved to live in mutual benefit with other species. Cows and rabbits have symbiotic bacterial colonies that break down tough cellulose in exchange for vitamins, sugars, and so on.

Got symbionts?
They can't live without the bacteria, the bacteria can't live without them. I see a potential for mutualism with Tillandsias in our future. Bring those Tillies to your home, get oxygen and clean air in exchange. And for the plants, they get a safe home and good care at a time when many of them are going extinct in the wild. Seems like a good deal in the making for plants and people....

The ever-adaptable Tillandsia usneoides, Spanish Moss!

Some clever folk in Asia are already using T. usneoides as living curtains in their apartments. I'm sure the inhabitants of crowded, smoggy cities would appreciate some living Tillie curtains. And why not suspended from the walls or ceiling? In a "Florida Room"  (a semi-outdoor, semi-indoor room that can get pretty wet, and drains easily), watering could be done with sprayers. I'm not sure how watering could be done for a Tillie ceiling in a traditional bedroom, but there are lots of clever designers and engineers out there who could devise some way of managing it.

Tillandsia intermedia, on a Tillie Tower.
Has anyone out there tried living with Tillies? How did it work out? The furthest I've gone is keeping about 5 dozen Tillies in the living room, suspended on wire CD racks, which I call the Tillie Towers. It's made the room much fresher and greener than before (and a little weirder, too). How might you incorporate Tillandsias into your home??


  1. A spanish moss curtain sounds like a good idea, but I remember nasty little red mites in spanish moss. Those guys were real biters! I love tillies too. If only they could somehow make use of the copious amounts of dust in my house I would have them everywhere. HMM? A plant that eats dust...do you know of one?

  2. Mite-infested Spanish moss sounds horrible! I think any for domestic use would have to be delicately processed in some way to remove pests, or simply grown for indoor use to avoid any infestation. No one wants mitey moss! And if I find any dust-eating plants, I will be sure to post the info on this blog, cuz' that would be one popular houseplant!

    1. Ah, Mitey Moss! The new cartoon series including our sci fi dust eating plant and the so cute dust bunny above. Perhaps some representations in clay too?

    2. Limette the Bunny would like to clarify that she is a purebred English Angora, and not a dust bunny.;-)
      (Though she does get a little dusty when she hides under the antique chest-of-drawers....)

  3. Marla you and NASA think alike. NASA has done studies to determine which plants would be best to clean the air and provide oxygen on space stations. http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h110indoorair.html
    Apparently fast growing tropical plants with relatively big leaves do the best. Of course, I don't think they considered the aesthetic aspects.

    1. Oh, and here I am on the Space Coast, just thinkin' this stuff up, it's synchronicity! Seriously, though, that is an interesting read. Bigger leaves with microbes in the soil are better for filtration, and of course, more oxygen. But they would be higher maintenance than the easier-to-grow, generally smaller-leaved Tillies. And what to do with all that dirt in space? I'd vote for Tillies if it were my space cubicle....