Tillandsia fasciculata Sw.
Giant airplant, cardinal airplant
Giant airplants are native to Central America, Mexico, the West Indies, northern South America, and the southeastern United States. Airplants are so-called because they have no roots and they grow nestled into nooks and crannies on trees, seemingly deriving everything they need from the air. And that is in fact largely true: air, water, and sunlight provide for most of the plants’ needs. But the plant also needs minerals and a few other nutrients. Depressions in the leaf axils pool rainwater, and these pools employ bacteria and fungi to decompose bits of plant matter (leaves, seeds, and twigs). Air plants absorb the resulting nutrients. Air plants are epiphytes—their nutrition does not depend on parasitizing the host plant.
They are endangered in Florida, a result of Mexican bromeliad weevils (Metamasius callizona), habitat destruction, and illegal collecting.
Plants: When flowering, plants are up to 2½" (6.5 cm) in size, with short stems.
Leaves: 20-50, in many-ranked clusters, emerging in all directions from a central point. Leaves are gray or gray-green, 10-20" (25-50 cm) × ⅜-⅞" (1-2.5 cm), elliptic, and flat, tapering evenly from base to apex.
Flowers: Flowerheads have 3-15 flower spikes. Each spike is 1¾-8" (5-20 cm) × ½-⅞" (1.5-2.5 cm). The spikes are red; a mixture of red, yellow, and green; or green, and they are really floral bracts, not flowers. The flowers, 10-50 per spike, are quite inconspicuous.
Fruits: Fruits are up to 1½" (4 cm) in size.
Wikimedia Commons (Photos)
Tillandsia fasciculata description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.