on the scent of tillandsias

Tillandsias, epiphytic bromeliads or “air plants,” have almost single-handedly elevated the caliber of gifts for people who love plants. Aeriums, terrariums, glass globes, and light bulb shapes like these from Los Angeles-based outdoor living shop Potted have all been inspired by and designed to accommodate tillandsias’ clever rejection of all things earthbound — and who wouldn’t gladly give or receive such airy, translucent worlds-within-worlds?


But it wasn’t until I came nose-to-bloom with Tillandsia straminea at garden designer Dustin Gimbel’s garden recently that I realized that, in addition to being one of the hippest gift shop novelties being offered by great taste-makers like Potted and Dirt Couture, tillandsias in their own right are fascinating little bromeliads, some with delicate blooms and perfume that carries on a warm June evening. Like a hawk moth to a datura’s trumpet, I returned again and again that night to inhale its jasmine-ish scent.


Some of the best plant discoveries are made not in plant nurseries or catalogues but in other people’s gardens. I’m also infatuated with Dustin’s Bocconia arborea, a macleaya relative, seen here with his ever-increasing assortment of hand-made, concrete, disembodied deities…


As to the tillandsias, as it happens, one of the best places to see the most diverse collection of tillandsias around is not 10 miles from my home. Today at Rainforest Flora, Inc., in Torrance, Calif., I discovered there are other scented tillandsias, too, like T. streptocarpa, also a summer bloomer.


Rainforest Flora creates elaborate naturalistic settings to display their tillandsias.


But I’m trying out a spheroid, hinged wire cage for my T. straminea.


Tillandsia straminea and streptocarpa’s new home is under my pergola, where the dappled light seems perfect except for possibly that late-afternoon blast of sun. The conventional wisdom says the more silver in the leaf, the more sun it can stand, but I’ll be watchful.

Tillandsias are frost sensitive and are grown as houseplants outside zone 10. Mist once a week and immerse completely for a few minutes once a month.

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5 Responses to on the scent of tillandsias

  1. James Golden says:

    Love those concrete sculpture “towers.” Always have loved tillandsias, though I didn’t know any had fragrance.

  2. Denise says:

    James, of course I had to include a photo of the towers. I remember something about purplish or white flowers being the most fragrant but was too lazy to research. The bright, primary-colored tillandsias aren’t fragrant. Need to hit the books again on the color vs. scent/pollinator angle.

  3. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few Tillandsias bloom, but never detected a fragrance. Next time I see one with a flower you know I’m going to be smelling it!

    Looks like a fun night at Dustin’s!

  4. Hoov says:

    Lovely…so sorry we could not make it. My neighbor is very successful with tillies just throwing them on the ground here and there(!). Not as entrancing as a spheriod, however.

  5. ks says:

    Back in ancient times when I worked at Nurseryland in Escondido we always had an assortment of Tillandsias which were routinely murdered by the customers, who could never remember to mist them. We took back the corpse and gently suggested they try something else.

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