Tillandsia bulbosa: Care 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 color – 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.

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.

Let’s dive in.

Where to Buy Tillandsia bulbosa Air Plants

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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

Lighting

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

However, they’re also 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 them in the home.

They’re best mounted high in terrariums where they can get plenty of indirect light. Grow lights can be a big help here.

Just note that they won’t handle a full day of direct sun like a xeric variety would. So be sure to pair these with other mesic varieties of air plant should you want to create a harmonious air plant terrarium.

Watering

These air plants really don’t require much water to thrive.

As the name suggests, they absorb most of their moisture passively through the air. If they need additional water, a (very) light misting should be sufficient.

For open terrariums, you may need to mist them once in a blue moon.

Air plants in closed terrariums, however, 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.

I do like to soak air plants before I add them to terrariums, though – just to make sure they’re fully hydrated.

soaking Tillandsia bulbosa air plant
I left it in to soak for a good 30 minutes or so.

Substrate

As with all air plants, Tillandsia bulbosa is a true epiphyte, so it requires no substrate to grow.

It’s found naturally growing on rocks and branches in South American forest areas, and it’ll do well in similar conditions in the home/terrarium. For best results, plant them in an area with maximum space and airflow.

Conveniently, they can be readily attached to backgrounds and branches with wire or super glue.

Temperature & Humidity

As a tropical plant, the Bulbous Air Plant prefers warmer temperatures and high humidity. It makes sense, as the higher the humidity, the more moisture is available for the plant.

Tillandsia bulbosa air plant temperature and humidity
Our home naturally pushes a decent humidity level.

However, 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). Thankfully, the bulbosa variety is fairly tolerant to changing moisture and airflow conditions.

But it’s still best to provide airflow where possible – so they’re best suited to well-ventilated tank-style terrariums vs. your typical jar terrarium or similar.

Tillandsia bulbosa air plant in terrarium
We tried our Tillandsia in this tropical tank terrarium. Granted, it’s not an ideal spot for it, but I love the energy it brings.

Growth

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).

Tillandsia bulbosa air plant bulb/base
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.

Propagation

Air Plants like the Tillandsia bulbosa are propagated by harvesting their “pups.”

Basically, the air plant versions of offshoots that each come with their own base and leaves. When partially developed, these can be gently removed from the parent plant by hand and placed elsewhere to grow. Pretty simple, really!

Varieties & Similar Plants

There’s a vast number of different air plants, of which the Tillandsia genus makes up the majority.

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

For more mesic varieties that will pair well in terrariums, consider the (quite similar-looking) T. butzii or the broad-leafed T. brachycaulos.

Tillandsia bulbosa vs ionantha air plants
Here’s how the mesic Tillandsia bulbosa looks vs a xeric Tillandsia ionantha.

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 airflow as possible and letting them dry out between watering will give them the best chance of success.

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