How to Grow the Bulbous Air Plant (Tillandsia bulbosa)

Pair of bulbous air plants held up

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

In This Article

If you are unfamiliar with Tillandsia or Tillys, as they are affectionately called by air plant aficionados, this article is going to introduce you to one of the genera’s most popular species.

Most plants of the genus are epiphytes, which means they grow on and take nutrients and moisture from other plants, rather than from the soil. Some plants in the genus do not even need another plant and can grow on constantly moving desert sand. This is definitely different from most people’s idea of how a plant grows. Most air plants are unique-looking and Tillandsia bulbosa is certainly a great example of this.

The bulbous air plant is an otherworldly looking species that features tendrils that appear from a prominent bulb at the base. This is, of course, where it gets both its botanical name and its common name.

The leaves of bulbousa are a dark green that turn a really lovely violet when the plant is ready to bloom. Don't expect a floral display every year, though, as it only flowers once in its lifetime. Once it blooms it then offsets pups and will clump or can be separated from the mother plant.       

Air plants are normally easy to grow but bulbosa is especially easy as it has very relaxed watering needs. If you are interested in trying your hand at an air plant, this is the perfect starter option.

For people with a notoriously black thumb, who want to grow a plant in the worst way, air plants are the most sensible option, and Tillandsia bulbosa is really the best bet in succeeding with air plants.

Botanical Name  Tillandsia bulbosa
Common Name  Bulbous Air Plant
Plant Type   perennial herbaceous
Mature Size  4–7 inches
Sun Exposure  Bright, indirect light or part shade
Soil Type  None
Soil pH  None
Bloom Time  Once per lifetime
Flower Color  Violet
Hardiness Zones  9–11
Native Area   Mexico, Central and South America
Toxicity  No

Tillandsia Bulbosa Care

Caring for Tillandsia bulbosa is extremely simple. Unlike most plants, the bulbosa will not need a container or soil. The vessel for displaying the air plant can be something as improvised as a found shell or a piece of driftwood. It can be suspended from a piece of wire or it can be placed in something as elaborate as a terrarium.

Bulbous air plants displayed in small woven container

The Spruce / Phoebe Cheong

Light

Tillandsia bulbosa is very adaptable to light and partial shade. It does not particularly like bright sun and would prefer indirect light and partial shade, but it is a flexible plant.

Soil

Placing the plant in soil is actually going to harm it as it will cause moisture to remain in its hollow bulb and create the opportunity for rot. 

Water

Watering a bulbosa is an easy task. Air plants differ from other plants in how they absorb water as they do not use their root system. Their roots are mainly used to secure them to other plants or rocks. Instead, along the leaves of tillandsias are tiny hair-like structures called trichomes and this is how they take in moisture.

The Bulbosa’s habitat is a relatively wet region so the leaves do not have an excess amount of trichomes, and they appear smooth. In air plants that live in drier climates, the number of trichomes will be profuse and give the air plants that famous silver or white look they are known for.

For bulbosa, it will usually only need two or three light mistings every week with a spray bottle. Try not to soak the leaves.

Temperature and Humidity

The Tillandsia bulbosa is native to the humid climates of South and Central America. It likes a moist environment and this can be achieved with regular, light mistings. The temperature is flexible as long as it remains above 55o Fahrenheit. 

Fertilizer

Fertilizing is not necessary, but if you feel the need to fertilize seek out a specially formulated tillandsia variety. 

Is Tillandsia Bulbosa Toxic?

Tillandsia bulbosa is not toxic to humans or household pets.

Tillandsia Bulbosa Varieties

The wild type of Tillandsia bulbosa is really stunning and long-lasting. But one of the great things about the Bulbous air plant is the number of hybrids and cultivars that are commercially available. They offer a wide choice of colors, shapes and size while demanding no further care.

The cultivars range in size from Tillandsia bulbosa ‘Baby’, which is quite small, to the absolutely huge Tillandsia bulbosa ‘Gigante

Hybrids range from Tillandsia bulbosa x ionantha ‘Joel’ to Tillandsia Lucille x bulbosa ‘The Perfect Blend’ which change not only the form but color of the plant.

Propagating Tillandsia Bulbosa

It is also so easy to create new plants in this species. They put out offsets, called pups, at the base of the original plant. When these form to around half the size of the mother plant, you can easily remove them to mount them in a separate position.

Although bulbosa can be grown from seed it isn't an easy proposition and germination can take many months or even years.

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