Tillandsia Xerographica: King and/or Queen of the Air Plants

Tillandsia Xerographicas are known as the King or Queen of the air plants; it takes just one glance at these impressive plants to understand why.

Xeros, their colloquial name, grow to various sizes. Their largest variant is the giant of Tillandsias; it can reach an impressive 3-feet². Fortunately, smaller varieties suitable for novices and horticulturists are available. They are the perfect size to show off in imaginative displays around the home.

What are Air Plants?

Air plant is the commonly used name for plants from the genus Tillandsia; there are over 650 species from which to choose.

Their natural habitats include desert, forest, and mountainous locations of Central and Southern America and Mexico.

Air plants are epiphytes; they absorb moisture, nutrients, and light through minute cells on their leaves called trichomes. Although they have a small root system, unlike typical pot plants, they don’t need soil.

They use roots to bond themselves to an object, such as a tree, rock, cliff face, or cacti. Tillandsias are not parasitic; they drain nothing from their host or vice versa. The two objects happily co-exist without bothering each other.

Tillandsia Xerographica Classification

Family: Bromeliaceae
Genus: Tillandsia L.
Species: T. Xerographica
Cultivar: Betty, Fireworks, Silver Queen, Silverado

tillandsia xerographica illustration

Cultivars occur when the Xerographica cross-pollinates with a different Tillandsia. There are many hybrid breeds of most air plant species.

Tillandsia Xerographica

Xerographica are native to the dry, tropical forests of Central America and many Meso-American countries including, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Mexico. The Xeric climate dictates the plant’s preferred conditions when grown indoors; its ideal position, temperature, and watering requirements.

They bond to tree branches, where the leaf canopies protect them from much of the harsh, direct sunshine. They receive plenty of filtered light and manage to absorb sufficient nutrients and moisture from the humid atmosphere.

They are slow-growing plants that can take years to reach full maturity. Only then do the leaves blush, and the bloom appears. In the wild, it takes several years; domestically, encouraging a Xerographica to flower may seem a slow and laborious task. Should yours decide to blossom, the rewards are great.

Xeros Appearance

The Tillandsia Xerographica is breathtaking.

It has multiple wide, thick leaves of the gentlest greenish silver shades. They grow outwards from the heart of the plant, arching over before tapering at the tip. They have multiple layers that form a spherical rosette.

xerographica

Some random offsets shoot off in slightly different, wavy directions, creating a twisted ribbon effect. It is little wonder that Xerographica plants are sometimes used in bride’s bouquets.

Through the changing seasons, the plant’s leaves often cycle through subtle color changes. It isn’t unusual to see gentle hues of lavender and pink.

The Inflorescence (Flower Head)

Like all other Tillandsia species, the Xerographica only flowers once in its lifetime. It signifies that the plant is healthy and has reached full maturity.
It occurs at the peak of their life cycle; the death of the flower indicates the slow decline of the plant.

Xerographica translates from Greek and means “dry brush” or “dry painting.” The flower is reminiscent of a paintbrush or a red-hot poker.

It grows on a single long stem that protrudes from the heart of the plant. The stalk reaches 12-inches long in the biggest varieties of the plant.

The blossom explodes in a riot of bright colors; reds, yellows, and oranges make this one of the most impressive air plants of all.

During the blooming season, the plant will need more water. Take care not to wet the delicate flower; instead, dunk the base of the plant multiple times, then set it aside to dry.

With lots of patience, plenty of care, and occasional fertilizer, the Xerographica rewards owners with the most spectacular flower that can last for months.

Xero Reproduction

In the wild, Xeros rely on hummingbirds, insects, or the wind for pollination. In the home (and the wild) they reproduce using a method called offset division.

During or just after the plant’s blooming phase, new shoots will appear around its base. It is new growth, and each develops into a miniature version of the parent plant; They are called pups.

Pups should remain attached to their mother until they reach a third of her size. Then it is safe to cut them off with a sharp blade. Take care to slice at the joint without cutting the pup.

Thoroughly soak the baby in lukewarm water and set it to dry in a room with good airflow. Once dried, add it to your display. Treat the young plant as you would have the parent, with regular misting and soaking sessions.

It is possible to propagate from seed when the inflorescence has died and dried up. Although rewarding, it can take up to 8-years for the plant to reach adult size.

Caring for a Tillandsia Xerographica

caring for xerographica

Xerographica air plants have a reputation of being more difficult to care for than most other species of Tillandsia. While this might be initially true, once you have implemented a reliable watering regime, the plant needs little else and will continue to grow slowly, impressing all who view it.

Watering

Xerographicas grow in arid forest land where they absorb and store enough moisture from the humid atmosphere.

They appreciate high humidity. In domestic situations, this is best gained by gently misting the plant each day. The average American home is only half as humid as the plant’s native conditions, so frequent watering is a must.

Consider soaking it for 2-hours once every 2-weeks. Place it upside down plant in a bowl of tepid water (preferably from a pond or water butt) Gently shake it to prevent any water from settling inside the rosette, and leave it in a well-aerated space for 3-4 hours to dry thoroughly.

Don’t return it to the display until it has dried out; otherwise, it may rot and die.

Lighting

Xerographica plants need lots of bright light to thrive, but it must be indirect. In the wild, the brilliant sunlight is diffused by the canopy created by the large leaves overhead.

The best way to replicate the required lighting conditions is to position the plant around 3-feet away from the north or east-facing window.

Although the plants need as much light as possible and will acclimatize over time, be aware that direct sunlight will scorch their leaves, resulting in their death.

Xerographica also flourish in artificial lighting, as long as it is not directly overhead.

Temperature

Xeros prefer a stable temperature throughout the day and at the change of the seasons. Their native climate is relatively hot during the day; the temperature drops overnight, it isn’t too significant and rarely fluctuates.

They prefer 75 ° or above, but average house temperatures are fine for the plants to thrive. They cannot tolerate anything less than 65°F. Be wary of placing them near air conditioning units and vents.

Feeding

Specialist Tillandsia fertilizers are inexpensive, and Xerographica plants appreciate a small amount once a month.

When the leaves change color in readiness for the inflorescence to bloom, feed them more frequently to encourage the flower to blossom. Xeros are notoriously lazy and take longer than many Tillandsia species to reach the blooming season.

Pruning

Carefully cut away any signs of damage to leaves. They are easy to identify as they will invariably brown, and the leaf will be harder/softer than usual.

If left untended, the damage might spread, with detrimental effects to the plant. Once removed, the leaves should show signs of repair regrowth within a few weeks.

Other Varieties of Large Air Plants

Xerographica isn’t the only variety of air plants capable of growing to giant sizes. Several species reach sizes exceeding 10-inches, too big to fit most terrarium or bottle displays.

Tillandsia Jalisco Monticola

Jalisco is a region in Mexico, and Monticola, means mountain dweller, handy hints to the origins of this plant. They grow above 10-inches tall and wide. Jalisco’s have year-round, large red and yellow bracts from which multiple small yellow flowers grow. In their wild habitat, they rely on hummingbirds to pollinate them.

T. Redy

It is a hybrid plant created by the cross-pollination of T. streptophylla and T. concolor. Their lush green leaves grow upwards before arching over falling into elegant curls.

They grow up to 10-inches high and almost 1-foot wide. The Redy has between 5 and 7 bright red and yellow bracts that host pastel purple and magenta flowers.

T. Balbisiana Velutina

Velutina is one of the largest air plant varieties capable of growing 16-inches high and wide; some spectacle. Their long, soft green leaves cascade downwards in the form of a fountain.

They suit hanging containers where they can make the most of good air circulation and humidity.

T. Floridiana Ros

Native to Florida, the Ros air plant has long, spider-like leaves that curve to form a bush. It grows to 12” high and 10” wide.

The mint green leaves are home to several rose-pink bracts, from which vivid purple flowers appear during the plant’s blooming phase.

Final Thoughts

Tillandsia Xerographica plants are simply stunning. They come in several sizes, mini Xeros that make a beautiful addition to a themed terrarium display, and larger varieties that make lovely additions to any home décor.

We have seen them used atop mannequins and busts to replicate crazy hairstyles or in wreaths, table decorations, and bridal bouquets (perfect for keepsakes after the event)

Xeros are versatile, classic air plants. Their muted tones of gray and silver that change with the seasons might take an age to bloom but are worth the wait.

Anthony Marsh
Anthony Marsh is a writer with deep roots in the soil of western New Hampshire. His first experiences with gardening were at the age of 10 where his parents allowed him to plant and cultivate his first vegetable garden. Twenty years later he’s continued with his passion for gardening and actively rescues abandoned plant life.