The Air Plant That Saved The Tree – Picture

I guess you could call me an indifferent gardener.  I get involved in other projects and gardening tends to be on the tail end of the list. 

Things get stuck in the ground and tended to when time allows, and most of the plantings in the yard that I have done got there because I know they’re easy to grow rather than their being a showcase plant.  I have my orchids on the irrigation system for that.

I do enjoy these plants, I just don’t like bending over and “putting my back out” in order to have a yard that looks like something off of a magazine cover.

On the other hand, I do know enough that when a special plant colonizes a spot, leave well enough alone.

Down here we’ve got these air plants.  At least that’s what you call them when you stumble across one glued to a seashell with the word “FLORIDA” engraved on it.   They get back home, wherever that is, and eventually die.

See the word Tourist Trap for more info…

Why?  Air Plants, or Tillandsia, are fairly finicky on what they need to survive in comparison to your garden variety marigold or other generic plant.  The best luck I ever had was to keep one in my bathroom shower in Philadelphia and squirt a little liquid fertilizer on it from time to time.   That little thing lasted a year.

In the case of this particular plant, it’s been out on my tree for more than four years now.  I’ve picked it up off the ground and stuck it in a different spot a number of times because the tree is sick.   It’s being eaten by termites and is slowly dying.  On the other hand, it still soldiers on with a few flowers here and there.  I guess that a Bottle Brush Tree is a hardy beast, even if it is an exotic Australian visitor.

That dying tree is what the Tillandsias want.  The nutrients that leak off of the bark when it decays get into the plant’s leaves and feed them.  It works with Spanish Moss as well and that tree has great beards of the stuff growing on it.

When this Tillandsia flowers it will die.   After that, the gloves are off.   I will chop the dead off the tree and probably remove the entire thing at some point.  Its replacement was an involuntary palm tree that insisted in growing in a pot in my back yard near the pool.  That tree is now over 4 feet tall and grew 2 feet since I dropped it there.

But that blasted Bottle Brush tree just refuses to give up the ghost.

You’re safe for now Mr Bottle Brush Tree, but when your Tillandsia goes I’m out there with a saw!

Tillandsia in the Bottle Brush Tree Picture

After the little storm we had over last week, I went out and started to pull down dead limbs. 

The tree itself is slowly dying, the limbs show that.   Inside the trunk are colonies of ants and termites. 

That dying wood is the food for these “Air Plants” that are called Tillandsia.   Not the little things that you buy in the tourist traps glued to a shell, this one is as large as my hand.  Hand sized is middle of the road here, but none the less I was quite pleased to see it here after the storm. 

I was going to pull that limb down and get rid of the dead wood, but that plant growing there means that it has a home as long as it wants it.

Tillandsia and Spanish Moss Picture

Driving South from Philadelphia, the lay of the land changes and as it changes, so does it’s look.

Philly was called once “The High Water Mark of the South”.  It is the Northernmost point where you see Southern species of plants, and it is also the Southernmost point where you see some Northern plants.

At least that was the explanation.

If you are driving south on I-95, every couple hundred miles or so, things look different, especially if you are driving south on the coldest week of the year, the Second Week of February.  You start off with Snow on the ground, you hit Virginia and the snow melts, North Carolina is thick with Pine Forests.  When you hit South Carolina, it starts to look very Southern indeed.  It is South Carolina that is famous for Spanish Moss. 

I would stop to stretch my legs, walk around the rest stop at Lake Marion, and there was one grand tree with Spanish Moss dripping off of its outstretched limbs.  This being February, it would be cold but the Spanish Moss would survive.   I’d scoop up a small bit of the stuff, drape it from the rear view mirror and continue on my way.

The last time I did that, I managed to keep the Spanish Moss alive.  It’s mixed in with the moss on the tree in front of my house.  Along with that, we have the other “Air Plants”.  There are a couple varieties that grow here, they’re all Tillandsia plants, all living off of the biomass that runs down the trees when it rains. 

Yes, I’m that crazy person that picks them up and ties them back onto the tree with a “twisty tie” to give them a second chance after a storm knocks them off their perch.

The ones in my tree are mostly smaller ones, but this picture is not of my tree.  This one is a little bit away from my house in one of those nondescript shade trees that are planted to provide a windbreak.  It also must be a native species since it is enrobed in Spanish Moss and Tillandsia.  The larger plants like the one in this picture are rare, and even endangered.  Luckily it took “root” here and has found a home somewhere near the little park.  When you plant native species, you get native species filling in the gaps in the web of life. 

In a suburbia that is traditionally a desert of green grass and “pretty flowers” that are typically distantly derived from species from China or other hotbeds of biodiversity, you end up with an area that looks lush but does not function as an ecosystem.   Change your plants to native species and you have the opposite result, wildlife will coexist with you.

It is always up to us.  The choice is to do the right thing, or have a desert.