Tillandsia bulbosa: Secrets of the Bulbous Air Plant

Tillandsia bulbosa is a fascinating air plant with long, tendril-like leaves. They flow and weave like a sea creature from the depths, and I personally love this alien looking plant.

It blooms with a deep violet, red or plum colour – bringing so much vibrancy and texture. Despite the chaotic, twisted leaves, the whole plant generally doesn’t grow beyond 4′ long; making it easy to incorporate into a variety of settings.

As with all Air Plants, Tillandsia bulbosa is an epiphyte. It’s found naturally growing on rocks and branches in various countries of South America. As the Air Plant name suggests, they do prefer to have a bit of airflow, so they’re perfect for open terrariums and ventilated vivariums.

That being said, as a mesic (tropical) species, Tillandsia bulbosa is tolerant to higher humidity and lower airflow. Which makes it one of the few Air Plants that can tolerate a static, closed terrarium environment – with a careful and considered approach.

Tillandsia Bulbosa (Bulbous Air Plant)

Where to Buy Tillandsia bulbosa Air Plants

See the links below to purchase from reputable terrarium plant shops and marketplaces (may include affiliate links). 

US – See on Etsy
UK – See on Etsy

Tillandsia bulbosa Care & Growth

Plant TypeEpiphyte
LightingHigh indirect light
Temperature60-80°F (15-26°C)
WateringVery light, even moisture
HumidityMedium – high humidity (50-70%)
Growth3-5 inches


Tillandsia bulbosa will thrive under bright, indirect light; making them a good pairing with many other terrarium plants.

However, they’re also far more tolerant of direct light than most others (able to manage a few hours in the sun per day) – making them much more flexible about where you can put it in the home.


Tillandsia bulbosa really don’t require much water to thrive. If they need additional water, a (very) light misting should be sufficient.

For open air plant terrariums you may need to mist them once every few days.

Air Plants in closed terrariums can be much harder to judge. They may not need any direct watering at all if there’s a high humidity. Often simply misting the rest of the terrarium is enough to indirectly supply Tillandsia bulbosa plants.


As with all air plants, Tillandsia bulbosa requires no substrate to grow.

They’re strictly grown as epiphytes, attached to branches and rocks. For best results, plant them in an area with maximum space and air. They can be readily attached to backgrounds and branches with wire or superglue.

Temperature & Humidity

As a tropical plant, Tillandsia bulbosa prefers warmer temperatures, and a high humidity. The higher the humidity, the more moisture is available for the plant.

But humidity can be a double-edged sword for Air Plants. Many Tillandsia can be prone to rot in a moisture-rich environment (especially with poor airflow) but thankfully the bulbosa variety is fairly tolerant to both moisture and airflow conditions.


The leaves of Tillandsia bulbosa can grow up to 4′ in total. So, they’ll always remain a small plant (even by air plant standards). The bulb stays just an inch wide, which is great for slotting into branch crevices and crooks.

The growth of the leaves can be a bit anarchic, but I find when planted as epiphytes there’s plenty of room for them to grow out.


Air Plants like the Tillandsia bulbosa are propagated by harvesting their “pups.” Basically the Air Plant versions of offshoots that have their own base and leaves.

When partially developed, these can be gently removed from the parent plant by hand, and placed elsewhere to grow.

Varieties & Similar Plants

There’s a vast number of different Air Plants, of which the Tillandsia genus make up the majority (check out Tillandsia ionantha for more).

Even Tillandsia bulbosa itself has a few notable cultivars named for where they’re from including; T. bulbosa ‘Guatamala’ and T. bulbosa ‘Belize’. ‘Guatamala’ being the smaller of the two.

Common Problems

If misting Air Plants directly, always allow them to air dry first.

This is particularly true for closed terrariums, always let them dry before closing them up (removing the plant if you need to). They can quickly succumb to rot with standing water on the surface of their leaves, and they won’t dry off if placed back into a humid closed environment.

Giving them as much air flow as possible and letting them dry out between watering will give them the best chance of success.