Welcome to the exciting world of air plants and soilless gardening! Tillandsia bulbosa is a fascinating and easy-to-care-for air plant that can grow just about anywhere indoors, assuming it has regular misting and access to bright, indirect sunlight.
While it doesn’t need traditional potting or potting soil, there are some unique requirements for growing this strange and spectacular air plant. Here’s our care guide to getting started.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Tillandsia bulbosa?
- 2 Where To Buy Tillandsia bulbosa Air Plants
- 3 Tillandsia bulbosa Plant Size
- 4 Tillandsia bulbosa Care Needs
- 5 Similar Plants
- 6 Conclusion
What Is Tillandsia bulbosa?
The Tillandsia bulbosa, also called a Tilly bulbosa, Tillandsia pumila, Tillandsia erythraea, and the bulbous air plant, is a herbaceous perennial well-known for its tendril-like leaves and ability to live outside the soil.
This small plant from the Bromeliad has tubular and straw-like-shaped green foliage that sprouts from the bulb’s center. These plants have large bulbous bases, which is where the plant gets its name.
Small, cylindric leaves, brilliant red bracts, and lavender corollas distinguish this species. In their native environment, it’s common to see them dangling upside down, either alone or in groups.
The bulbosa is a mesic type of air plant, meaning it comes from tropical areas. The other kind of Tillandsias is called xeric plants, which come from desert climates.
While most of this article is about indoor gardening, this Tillandsia can also be grown outdoors in hardiness zones 9-11.
Origin And Family
Tillandsia bulbosa is a member of the genus Tillandsia and the family Bromeliad. It comes from the tropical areas of Southern Mexico (Chiapas, Yucatán Peninsula, Tabasco, Veracruz), Belize, South America, and Central America.
This Tillandsia plant, first identified in the 1600s by Carl Linnaeus (named after Swedish botanist and physician Dr. Elias Tillandz.), prefers moderate humidity and bright indirect sunlight.
Tell Me More About Tillandsia Species
There are roughly 30 species of Tillandsia. Their non-spiky leaves and inflorescence branches can have symmetrical sepals, free petals, and typically brightly colored flower clusters that fade rapidly after blossoming.
They’re commonly epiphytic, growing on trees and shrubs, although some species are also found on rocks or the ground.
The genus is prevalent throughout Belize, but it’s most prolific on the high summits of the Maya Mountains. Many species have brilliantly colored bracts and blooms to attract hummingbirds.
Where To Buy Tillandsia bulbosa Air Plants
There are many places where you can purchase this air plant. If you purchase it at a nursery, it will typically cost more. But Tillandsia plants generally are very affordable. At most, you’re paying $10 for a basic bulbosa air plant.
I recommend buying online, specifically on Etsy, which has these air plants starting as low as $3.00. If you’re purchasing in winter and live in a location with cold weather, you should request that it comes with a heat pack to prevent cold damage.
Tillandsia bulbosa Plant Size
As a mature air plant indoors, the Tillandsia bulbosa only reaches between 4-7 inches. Because of its height and size, you can place it about anywhere.
Tillandsia bulbosa Care Needs
For most growers, you’ll want to mist your plants every 1-2 days and dunk them in a bowl of water every one to two weeks. You’ll need to make sure the plant is dried out between waterings.
Check out the thorough care guidelines below for more specific advice.
|Care Type||Care Specifics|
|Botanical Name||Tillandsia bulbosa|
|Common Name||Tillys, bubous airplant, air plant|
|Origin||Mexico, South America, and Central America|
|Plant Type||herbaceous perennial|
|Leaf Shape||tubular and straw-like|
|Leaf Color||green foliage that sprouts from the bulb's center|
|Recommended Home Placement||in a bathroom or kitchen|
|Light||bright indirect sunlight but it can tolerate full sun|
|When To Water||Water mist your plants every 1-2 days, and dunking every one to two weeks. You'll need to make sure the plant is drying out between waterings.|
|When To Fertilize||every other week during growing season|
|Preferred pH||5.5 to 6.0|
|Toxic To Pets?||No|
|Common Pests & Diseases||scale insects, mealybugs, root rot|
Tillandsia bulbosas are the definition of low-maintenance plants. The most significant considerations for this Bromeliad are the amount of water and the lighting requirements.
The growth rate of a Tillandsia bulbosa is slow. At a mature height, it will only grow to about 4-7 inches tall. That said, it can produce small clones of itself, called pups, which you can either separate and propagate or leave on the mother plant.
You don’t need a pot for these air plants, and any container you choose will be more about the aesthetic value than anything else. Some growers place them directly on windowsills or countertops.
Generally, though, you can place them in small wooden bowls, pottery, cups, and any other kind of container.
There’s no need to repot your bulbosa, as it doesn’t grow very large and doesn’t rely on a pot or growing medium.
T. bulbosa is a soilless plant called an air plant, so you shouldn’t plant it in a potting mix. You may be asking yourself at this point – but how does it get nutrients? And this is a good question.
In the wild, these plants are epiphytes, meaning they grow on another surface, such as a tree. But they aren’t stealing nutrients from the host.
Instead, they have tiny vessels called trichomes that absorb nutrients from the air.
When growing indoors, we mist our plants to provide them with nutrients and use water-soluble Bromeliad fertilizer to give them the nutrients they need.
You shouldn’t worry much about pH for your air plant unless your water is highly alkaline or acidic. Bublosa prefers a slightly acidic pH, somewhere between 5.5 to 6.0, but this isn’t an essential factor for raising this plant.
You should give your air plant light mistings every 1-2 days and dunking in a bowl of water every two weeks. You’ll need to make sure the plant is drying out between waterings.
This easy-to-care-for houseplant prefers bright indirect sunlight, but it can tolerate full sun for 12 hours a day. They can shrivel up, burn, dehydrate, and eventually die if exposed to too much light.
Unlike some of its xeric cousins, it can live in lower light levels. But if there isn’t enough light, you’ll notice signs of leggy growth where the leaves grow further and further apart.
If you’re concerned that your Tillandsia bulbosa isn’t getting enough light, move it closer to a window or switch to artificial light. Bulbosa plants can do decently well in fluorescent light, or under a basic grow light bulb.
A water-soluble Bromeliad plant fertilizer is ideal for the Tillandsia bulbosa. Sungrow is a good Bromeliad fertilizer brand we recommend. You should fertilize about every other week in the growing season – which is spring to fall for the epiphytes. In winter, you don’t need to fertilize.
Propagating Tillandsia bulbosa
Tillandsia bulbosa is about the easiest plant to propagate. The most common method of propagation is by clipping off the pups that grow upon your bulbosa. Take a small epiphyte when it is about 1/2 the size of the parent plant. You can clip it off with sterile scissors.
When thinking about humidity, remember that you’re trying to emulate the tropical areas of Mexico, South America, the West Indies, and Central America. Tillandsia bulbosa, or bulbous air plant, is a fascinating herbaceous perennial that prefers moderate to high humidity – for best results, we recommend you stay between 50-70%.
Since humidity is such a big consideration for this plant, you may need to get a humidifier and place it near the Tillandsia bulbosa. This can make a big difference for a wide variety of plants.
While it may seem obvious, air plants like to be in the fresh air. The best way to do this is by having an oscillating fan running near them and keeping them out of any stagnant rooms. During warmer months, you should open windows to let them experience genuinely fresh air.
Warm temperatures are preferable for your Tilly plant. Still, it can thrive in a temperature range of 70-80 degrees in the daytime and 60-65 at night, not tolerating anything under 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tillandsia bulbosa #Bromeliaceae an #AirPlant in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. This epiphytic species got its name from the swollen bulbous base. pic.twitter.com/nLJSRMKqe7— Dr Dale Dixon (@dale_dixon) July 24, 2018
The Tillandsia bulbosa produce significant red tubular flowers only once in their life, but they can grow baby plants (pups), which each have their air plant blooms. This erect flower shape is beautiful to see.
The Tillandsia bulbosa is non-toxic to children or pets. It will not harm dogs or cats if ingested, and there are no ingredients in the plant that are harmful to humans.
Pests, Diseases, And Other Problems
Since Tillandsias don’t require soil, it’s not as affected by diseases and pests as soil-living plants. Because of this, bulbosa is considered a disease and pest-resistant plant. That said, it has a few common issues we should point out.
Scale insects might appear as lumps on plant stems or branches on your Tillandsia bulbosa. The small bugs, which come in green, gray, brown, and black colors, usually stay put once they’ve latched on to a plant.
If your infestation isn’t too severe — on a single plant or part of a single plant — you can use a teaspoon of neem oil in four cups of water to help discourage fresh scale insects from attacking this fascinating houseplant. Similar to spider mites, you should take a spray bottle and vigorously spritz the plant.
While neem oil and other horticultural oils will not kill everything, they will undoubtedly cause some damage. There are numerous insecticide sprays for bulbous air plants that are safe to use to treat this.
happy to report that in my quest to own every (affordable) natural thing that looks like an alien, I now own a tillandsia bulbosa pic.twitter.com/lzbpiF6oMb— Alan Levinovitz (@AlanLevinovitz) June 21, 2020
Mealybugs infestations are somewhat common on Tillandsia bulbosa, especially if you have a lot of different houseplants.
Act promptly if you find these little parasites, which leave little white puffs on the tendrils of this air plant.
A cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol can be rubbed on the plant to get rid of the mealybugs. When misting your plants, you can also add a bit of neem oil, which can kill a wide variety of pests.
One of the more common problems with air plants is rot. There are strategies to prevent your air plant from succumbing to it, even though it is usually fatal.
A common cause of rot in plants is excessive or insufficient watering and plants that aren’t getting enough light. The most common cause of rot is overwatering.
Rot is typically the cause of soft, mushy bases of air plants. Even the inside of air plants can rot.
Love Tilly bulbosa? Here are some other Tillandsia we recommend you try!
Tillandsia funckiana – This is a caulescent air plant, which means that its leaves grow upwards along the stem rather than outwards. The funckiana looks like a pine branch and has soft pine needle-like leaves. You may see some that grow straight, while others twist and turn.
Tillandsia aeranthos – This air plant has an eye-catching arrangement of leaves that shoot upward in a nearly cone-like form. This plant has a green coloration with stiff, sharp-to-the-touch leaves. This cultivar will bloom beautifully, with blooms that are both purple and pink.
Tillandsia ionantha – This air plant begins as a little plant with green and silver-colored leaves. As the plant matures, the leaves begin to expand outward and turn a deeper shade of green. When the ionantha begins to bloom, the leaves begin to change to gorgeous red/pink colors.
New friends today. Tillandsia bulbosa and Tillandsia butzii pic.twitter.com/CK2f8rIypJ— 🔮𝙱𝙾𝙽𝙴 𝙼𝙾𝙼𝙼𝚈🔮 (@BarghestBlack) March 28, 2021
If you’re looking for an air plant with a bit of flair, the Tillandsia bulbosa is a great option for gardeners of all skillsets. Your efforts will be rewarded when you witness its tendril-like leaves and beautiful red bloom.
You can’t get enough of indoor plants, can you? Check out these Two Peas In A Condo guides and see what else we have to offer!