Giant Airplant, Beach Botany

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Giant Airplant, Tillandsia Utriculata, is a perennial herb that makes its home in Matanzas Pass Preserve. Utriculata is an epiphyte that grows to 6’ to 7’ in height and 2’ to 3’ wide. The plant is made up of about 25 to 75 spirally arranged light green strap-shaped leaves that will fold in to a tank. Leaf shape is wide at the base and pointed at the tip. Length up to 30” long. Width 3” at the base. Margins entire. The plant is attached  to oak  and  buttonwood tree branches by anchor roots. Rain water gathers in the tank. Insects that fall in the tank provide nutrients. The plant, however, is not carnivorous. It is the largest of Florida’s Bromeliads.

Up to 10 years may pass before an erect and sturdy flora stalk grows from the center of the tank. The stalk can be 5’ to 6’ in height. The upper portion of the stalk has several erect branches each 2’ to 3’ in length.  Inflorescence occurs on the branches where green bracts are attached one after the other. Eventually a bract opens and an ivory-white tubular flower with a 3 petal corolla appears. Diameter is 1 1/2”

Branches may produce 10 to 200 flowers. Then the seed capsules 2” long releases its seeds and flowering stops, the plant dies and falls out of the tree. That recently happened to one of our Giant Airplants. Fortunately we have found another one in the Preserve. The picture shows a juvenile specimen high up in a tree.