Tillandsia ionantha (blushing bride)
Tillandsia ionantha in flower in the Living Collections at Kew.
Tillandsia ionantha Planch.
blushing bride, air plant
Near Threatened (NT) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Commonly grows as an epiphyte on tree trunks in tropical dry forest, scrub, chaparral (shrubland or heathland affected by wildfire) and along riversides.
About this species
Tillandsia ionantha is a bromeliad commonly sold in the UK as an ‘air plant’. The specific epithet ionantha is taken from the Greek adjective, ion, meaning ‘violet’, and the noun, anthos, meaning ‘flower’.
In its natural environment, blushing bride often experiences full sunlight and very low rainfall. These adaptations make it an easy-to-care-for houseplant, as long as it is kept in very bright conditions.
Tillandsia erubescens, Pityrophyllum erubescens
Geography and distribution
Found from Mexico to Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) at 450 - 1,700 metres above sea level.
Blushing bride most commonly grows as a stemless plant, with leaves up to 6 cm long, covered with coarse, silvery-grey scales. The leaf sheaths are elliptical and about half as long as the leaf blades. The leaf blades are stout, narrowly triangular and 5 mm wide. The outer leaves are green and the inner leaves are deep red at the time of flowering.
The inflorescence is a reduced panicle, with a spike-like appearance. The violet petals are over 4 cm long and the yellow stamens and pistil protrude from the end. The fruit is a subcylindric capsule, 3 cm in length. The seeds have a feathered tuft of hairs and are wind-dispersed.
Groups of plants can develop into dense clusters of rosettes by the production of offsets, forming large clumps that can completely encircle a tree branch. The red inner leaves at flowering and exserted (protruding) floral parts suggest pollination by hummingbirds.
Threats and conservation
Members of the genus Tillandsia, known as ‘air plants’, have declined in numbers in the wild due to habitat loss and over-collection for the horticultural trade. Climate change is likely to be an additional threat to T. ionantha, which would be adversely affected by drought and an increase in the frequency of hurricanes.
Although it has been given a global conservation rating of Near Threatened (NT) according to IUCN Red List criteria, T. ionantha was listed as Vulnerable (VU) in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and Endangered (EN) in Chiapas (Mexico) in the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. These discrepancies are a result of it being common and abundant in some parts of its range and scarce in others, and also a result of the information available at the time of the assessment.
Further surveys are needed to determine the ongoing effects of collection and habitat loss on the conservation status of this species across its wide geographical range.
Conservation assessments carried out by Kew
Tillandsia ionantha is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.
Tillandsia ionantha is grown on a commercial scale for the horticultural trade, and is one of the most commonly available bromeliad species in the UK and USA.
Tillandsia ionantha is popular in cultivation as a result of it being small, attractive and easy to cultivate. It grows primarily as an epiphyte, but it is also found as a terrestrial. When cultivated in bright light, the entire plant changes in a short time to a fiery crimson colour that commands the spotlight.
Blushing bride is a durable species and is ideal for growing on a kitchen windowsill, where it can receive strong light and be seen at its best. It produces abundant roots when grown well, and these attach the plant firmly to the mounting substrate.
This species at Kew
Blushing bride can be seen growing in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, and is also grown in the behind-the-scenes Tropical Nursery.
Benzing, D. H. (2000). Bromeliaceae: Profile of an Adaptive Radiation. Cambridge University Press.
Govaerts, R., Dransfield, J., Zona, S.F, Hodel, D.R. & Henderson, A. (2010). World Checklist of Bromeliaceae. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 02 September 2010).
Pemberton, R. & Lu, H. (2007). Rare naturalization of an ornamental Tillandsia, Tillandsia ionantha in southern Florida. Selbyana 2: 150-153.
Read, M. (1989). Bromeliads threatened by trade. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 122: 29.
Romand-Monnier, F. (2009). Tillandsia ionantha. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Smith, L.B. & Downs, R.J. (1977). Tillandsioideae in Flora Neotropica. Monograph No. 14. part 2. N.Y. Hafner Press, New York.
Kew Science Editor: Marcelo Sellaro
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell
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