Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tillie of the Month: Tillandsia seleriana

Ah, the mysterious alien plant featured in the movie "Avatar", how I wanted to add thee to my collection! Normally, I don't go hankering after a particular species or cultivar, but after seeing Tillandsias featured in a major movie, I really wanted to find a T. seleriana. Finally, I found one at this spring's botany festival:
Tillie seleriana was named in 1903 after Alert Gardener Seler (no idea about the first name). It's a native of southern Mexico and likes to live at altitudes of about 200-2,000m. It's a 20cm silver Tillie with a massive bulb. You would think it is quite heavy but in fact it's as light as paper. Why?
The bulb chambers are hollow. It turns out that T. seleriana is a myrmecophyte. A whaaaa??? It's an Ant Plant!
Many Tillies are Ant Plants, including T. butzii, T. caput medusae, T. paucifolia, and T. bulbosa. I'll do a separate post on myrmecophytism once I figure out how to pronounce it.  Suffice to say that the plants like the ants because they help to keep them fed and watered, and in return, the Tillie gives the ants a way cool house. T. seleriana generally grows in oak forests or in dry, piney woods. Sometimes it needs a little help getting adequate water and minerals, and so the ants come to the rescue.

If you are growing a T. seleriana, give it some good light and a weekly soak. It doesn't really need mistings in between soaks, but a light mist is fine. The really important thing about T. seleriana, and all myrmecophytic Tillandsias, is that they drain upside down after a soak. Water cannot linger in those chambers or the plant will rot pronto. Some people like to grow them upside down in order to avoid this very problem, but you can simply drain the Tillie after watering by keeping it in an upside-down position for an hour or so. T. seleriana also needs good air circulation but does not demand high humidity. It is certainly an extravagantly weird Tillie!

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