Florida has 16 species of native bromeliads, or airplants, which belong to the pineapple family. One bromeliad that is endangered in Florida is the cardinal airplant (Tillandsia fasciculata), also known as quill-leaf airplant. The cardinal airplant has gray-green leaves and blooms a flower spike up to a couple feet tall. The flower spike is composed of usually red bracts and tiny purple flowers. The cardinal airplant is an epiphyte, meaning it grows on the branches of other trees but does no harm to the trees. Cardinal airplants typically grow on oak or cypress trees. This bromeliad is also known as a tank epiphyte, since water and decaying plant material collect in the center. This small “pond” provides nourishment to the plant itself and habitat or protection for other creatures.
One main threat to the cardinal airplant is the accidentally imported Mexican bromeliad weevil (Metamasius callizona). The Mexican bromeliad weevil can be identified by its mostly black color and yellow-orange band near the middle of its body. Adult female weevils make slits in airplant leaves to lay their eggs. Larvae with cream-colored bodies and dark red heads hatch from the eggs and eat the growing tissue at the base of the plant, resulting in death of the bromeliad.
If you would like to cultivate native bromeliads in your yard, make sure you have trees with rough bark and long horizontal branches so seedlings or mature plants can take hold. Bromeliads grow best in warm, humid, well-lit conditions. Air plants tend to be smaller but more colorful when grown in direct sunlight. A great place to view a variety of native bromeliads is the Scott Florida Garden at the Naples Botanical Garden. Here, various bromeliads adorn live oaks and cabbage palms outside the wildflower meadow.
By: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published by the News-Press