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Tillandsia is a genus of around 650 species of evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae, native to the forests, mountains and deserts of Central and South America, the southern United States and the West Indies. They have naturally been established in diverse environments such as equatorial tropical rain forests, high elevation Andes mountains, rock dwelling (saxicolous) regions, and Louisiana swamps, such as Spanish Moss (T. usneoides), a species that grows atop tree limbs. Airplant is a common name for plants in this genus. Most Tillandsia species are epiphytes – i.e. they normally grow without soil while attached to other plants. Some are aerophytes or air plants, which have no roots and grow on shifting desert soil. Generally, the thinner-leafed varieties grow in rainy areas and the thick-leafed varieties in areas more subject to drought. Most species absorb moisture and nutrients through the leaves from rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter, aided by structures called trichomes.
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The genus Tillandsia was named by Carl Linnaeus after the Swedish physician and botanist Dr. Elias Tillandz (originally Tillander) (1640–1693). Some common types of Tillandsia include air plant, ball moss (T. recurvata) and Spanish moss, the latter referring to T. usneoides in particular. The genus contains around 730 species, traditionally divided into seven subgenera:
- Tillandsia subg. Allardtia (A. Dietr) Baker
- Tillandsia subg. Anoplophytum (Beer) Baker
- Tillandsia subg. Diaphoranthema (Beer) Baker
- Tillandsia subg. Phytarrhiza (Vis.) Baker
- Tillandsia subg. Pseudalcantarea Mez
- Tillandsia subg. Pseudo-Catopsis Baker
- Tillandsia subg. Tillandsia
Species of Tillandsia photosynthesize through a process called CAM cycle, where they close their stomata during the day to prevent water loss and open them at night to fix carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This allows them to preserve water, necessary because they are epiphytes which can only absorb water in small amounts through their leaves. Temperature is not critical, the range being from 32 °C (90 °F) down to 10 °C (50 °F). They are sensitive to frost, except for the hardiest species, T. usneoides, which can tolerate night-time frosts down to about −10 °C (14 °F).
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- Tania Chew, Efraín De Luna & Dolores González (2010). "Phylogenetic relationships of the pseudobulbous Tillandsia species (Bromeliaceae) inferred from cladistic analyses of ITS 2, 5.8S ribosomal RNA gene, and ETS sequences" (PDF). Systematic Botany. 35 (1): 86–95. doi:10.1600/036364410790862632. Archived from the original on March 23, 2015.
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- Media related to Tillandsia at Wikimedia Commons