Growing Tillandsia Xerographica: Caring For The King of Air Plants

Tillandsia xerographica [til-LAND-see-uh] [zer-oh-graf-i-ka] a species of bromeliad, is one of the largest air plants capable of reaching over 3’ feet in size.

It features thick, wide leaves extending from a tight rosette.

Tillandsia air plants are often small and light, easily securing themselves to branches or pieces of wood.

King of Air Plants - Tillandsia xerographica

Tillandsia xerographica is a different story.

A slow-growing epiphyte, the plant gets its name from the Greek words xeros (“dry) and graphia (“writing”).

Native to parts of Central America, including Southern Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the plant belongs to the Tillandsia genus of air plants and the Bromeliaceae family of monocot flowering plants.

Due to the size of the plant, it’s referred to as the queen of air plants.

Besides needing high humidity and room to grow, this otherworldly-looking plant isn’t too demanding.

Tillandsia Xerographica Care

Size & Growth

The slow-growing tillandsia air plant has a large rosette of silvery gray leaves.

The leaves taper to a point and may achieve a spread of 3’ feet or more.

Flowering and Fragrance

The inflorescence appears from the center of the rosette from a thick, green stem.

The leaf bracts are a rosy-red color while the floral bracts become light green.

The petals of the tubular flowers vary from red to purple and may last for several months.

Light & Temperature

Tillandsia xerographica air plants prefer warm, dry conditions, such as the climates found in the southwest of the United States and parts of Central America.

During the winter, it can tolerate cooler temperatures, but it can’t tolerate freezing weather.

It’s winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.

The ideal temperature range is between 60° – 80° degrees Fahrenheit (16° C – 27° C).

The plant thrives in direct sunlight when grown indoors or outdoors.

If grown indoors, face it to the south where it can get more bright light throughout the day.

In a west-facing window, it’s more likely to direct sunlight in the evening.

While the plant can survive with indirect light, the leaves and inflorescences may not appear as bright and colorful.

Watering and Feeding

Over-watering tends to kill the plant.

It also suffers from extreme dryness.

Instead of watering the plant, occasionally mist it and submerge it.

Submerge the entire plant in a tub of water for about 15 minutes.

Once removed from the water, hold the plant upside down to allow excess water to run off.

Perform this ritual once per month during the warmer months.

Mist the plant every couple of days to keep it from drying out, but avoid spraying the plant too frequently.

Fertilizer isn’t necessary for a healthy plant, but a struggling plant may benefit from liquid fertilizer added to the spray bottle when misting.

Soil & Transplanting

As with other air plants like Tillandsia ionantha and Tillandsia cyanea, Tillandsia xerographica doesn’t need soil.

It obtains its moisture through the leaves instead of a root system.

As it doesn’t require potting, and it doesn’t need transplanting.

People frequently attach smaller air plants to a piece of wood, bark, or another plant.

This jumbo air plant gets rather large and may not stay affixed to another object.

Instead of attaching it to something else, place the plant in a larger saucer or bowl.

You may even place it on a table or desk.

Grooming

Xerographica plants don’t need grooming, but removing dead leaves allows for fresh growth.

How to Propagate T. Xerographica

Propagate tillandsia xerographica with seed or pups.

Obtain the seeds after the flowers die and begin to dry out.

Keep in mind it may take about eight years for the seedling to become a full-grown plant.

The king of air plants begins producing a pup about six months to two years after its first bloom.

The pup grows near the base and is relatively easy to remove.

Use a sharp knife to cut the pup away from the mother.

Do not cut through the pup or the base of the mother plant.

Keep the cut close to the area where the two connect.

After separating the plants, follow the same care instructions for the pup as the mother plant.

Tillandsia Main Pests or Disease Problems?

Scale insects and mealybugs are the biggest threats to the king of air plants.

Mealybugs look like small pieces of cotton and congregate in groups.

Remove them with tweezers or cotton balls.

For scale insects and severe mealybug infestations, treat the plant with insecticide.

If possible, use liquid insecticide spray on the leaves.

These plants are not toxic, but some people and animals experience negative reactions after ingesting pieces of the flowers, stems, or leaves.

Mild irritation may be due to an allergy, but this is rarely severe.

Suggested Uses For Tillandsia Xerographica

This large tillandsia is a showstopper houseplant in perfect condition.

Place it by itself on a table, in a terrarium, or on a desk near a large window to display its unique leaves and flowers.

If the summers get warm enough, take it outdoors to enjoy the fresh air, and bring it back inside when temperatures start to drop below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (16° C).