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Tillandsia streptophylla

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Tillandsia streptophylla Scheidweiler ex E. Morren published in L'horticulteur belge, journal des jardiniers et amateurs 3, 1836.

  Wheeler (1934) records ants living in this species in Mexico as does botanist explorer Purpus in Richter (1977.) and Rauh (1979.)  Olmsted and Dejean (1987) found 53% of plants contained ants. Chew et al. (2010) in their field studies confirm the myrmecophytic habit and also that DNA evidence show it is genetically a sister species to T. pruinosa another ant-house species. The ant species Crematogaster curvispinosa is reported as an inhabitant by www.antweb.org.

  Plant diameters vary from about 18 cm to 60 cm (2 ft.)  Large night opening flowers are colourful with mauve blooms, while scapes and primary bracts are carmine. Hence the pollinating vector is probably nocturnal. (The italics in these two sentences are wrong, see later posts.)

  Habitats: Yucatan State, Mexico in exposed places on low inundated forests extending into mangroves; usually as single plants, rarely in clumps of 2-3 rosettes. (Ramirez et al. 2008b & 2009.) Botanist and explorer C. A. Purpus is quoted in Richter (1977) “At about 700 to 800 m (2297-2625 ft.) altitude, the savannah gives way almost abruptly to a region chiefly covered with sparse oak forest, semi-xerophile, up to about 900 m. (2953 ft.) bromels and orchids simply cram the place. The oak crowns become visible in winter because they shed part of their leaves, permitting the epiphytes to profit from increased light.” “The bromels are in part identical with those of the savannah but there are some new ones among them, as for example the odd T. streptophylla.  In sunny surroundings it grows like a ball, its arched leaves curved back, their tips entangled with one another. In the shade, the plant has stretched out leaves and looks entirely different. Big black ants make their home in the nooks between the sheaths.”  http://journal.bsi.org/V18/1/  Richter (1977) records “700 to 88 m altitude” obviously a typographical error.)  However, overall altitudes vary from sea level to 1400 m (4593 ft.)

  Range. Mexico, Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.)

This species is noted for having tightly curled leaves, the degree of which is influenced strongly by aridity or ones cultivation regime.  In wet humid conditions, leaves are far less curly but in drier circumstances, they form ever-tighter curls.  Plants are somewhat more susceptible to rot than other species so are best mounted in a bright position but are generally hardy and very easy to maintainAt least one field trial on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, has found this species to be the only one out of six species tested to be self-sterile. (Ramirez et al. 2008.)



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Two inflorescences on one side of a large colony located in my front garden in Guatemala that was grown on from a wild-collected pup taken from a red mangrove on an exposed beach adjacent the border with Belize. It is horticulturally what is known as fa. rubra but this image taken during rainy season so concolorous red cast on leaves not very apparent. Grown fully exposed to sun at ~1600 masl on trunk of large Chamaedorea plumosa (palm).


Flowers are diurnal (exerted corollas evident here are blasted, hence pale color) and hummingbird-pollinated. As far as I know, at this point rather few nocturnal-flowered, bat-pollinated Tillandsia spp. known for certain, mostly from further south.


This species is fairly common in coastal and riparian forests throughout the Caribbean lowlands of northern Mesoamerica. In my experience, it is most abundant at or near sea level and decreases noticeably in abundance as one moves upwards in elevation towards limits of distribution. IME, invariably colonized by very aggressive stinging ants that swarm out in large numbers if the plants are disturbed.


Quite slow-growing from seed, but very popular species grown in very large numbers by local bromeliad nurseries for export.





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Thank you Jay, most interesting.  It seems my source stating nocturnal flowering was in error.  The following abstract may explain how 'observers' who do not get out of bed very early could be misled. I had read the article which is available on line but failed to notice this detail.

" floral phenology and breeding system of tillandsia streptophylla (bromeliaceae) were studied in a low inundated forest in yucatan, mexico. during the flowering season, from march to august, terminal scapose 1-branched, paniculate inflorescences are produced with one flower per branch opening per day, over a period of 11-29 days. flowers are tubular, light violet, with the stigma placed below the anthers, both protruding above the corolla. flowers are protandrous, with anthers releasing pollen from 0500 hours and stigma becoming receptive around 0900 hours. controlled experimental crosses suggest that tillandsia streptophylla is self incompatible and therefore, pollinator-dependent."

Ramírez, Ivón M. Francisco Chi May, Germán Carnevali & Filogonio May Pat. 2009.

It takes two to tango: self-incompatibility in the bromeliad Tillandsia streptophylla (Bromeliaceae) in Mexico.  Rev. Biol. Trop. (Int. J. Trop. Biol. Vol. 57 (3): pp761-770.

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