Cardinal Air Plant

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Green long leaves reside reaching up down and around  the scarlet flower…

A common bromeliad epiphyte, the Cardinal Air Plant, Tillandsia fasciculate, is found in the trees in many diverse habitats in Central and Southern Florida.  This species  can be recognized by its spirally arranged gray-green leaves that stand erect with a sharp point at the tip. Leaves can reach lengths of up to 3 feet. Width is 2 to 3 inches  at the leaf base. Usually, 20 to 50 leaves form a tank like water reservoir structure that can capture rain water. Decaying plant material and insects fall in the tank where their nutrients are absorbed into the plant.

Flowering occurs from spring through summer. An erect, scarlet flower stalk grows from the center of the plant .  Several stems branch upward at the upper portion of the stalk. Stems are 2 to 5 inches in length and are composed of red floral bracts. Bracts are modified leaves that are associated with flowers.  When blooming, a tiny cigarette like purple flower with three fused petals will push out from its surrounding bract. Tiny avian pollinators are attracted to the blooms. After pollination, windblown seeds will appear in place of the flower.

The two species in the picture are growing on a Laurel Oak, Quercus laurifolia, at Koreshan State Park. One species is growing a flower stalk.

Dorothy Rodwell