How can I tell if my airplant is going to pup?

So you have air plants (Tillandsia), they have flowered and you are anxiously pacing up and down waiting for the patter of little leaves.

How can you tell if you need to prepare for another little plant to care for? There are a few signs to look out for.

Air plant lore has it that plants will pup/have offsets/reproduce vegetatively after flowering. This is not always the case, occasionally a plant will pup without flowering, as the plant below did for me this year (in case you are unsure, pup on the left, parent plant on the right).

pup no flower.jpg

Once your plant has finished flowering (the colour has dulled, the petals have fallen or dried up), look at the plant. You may find that it has a slightly uneven or bulgy look to it.

t seler in pup

This Tillandsia seleriana announced its intention to flower in this new year. It flowered in the spring, and I found the pup in late May/early June. The pups appear in the space where the leaves meet in the centre of the plant, towards the base of the plant. So if you are looking for one, start with the bottomost/outermost leaves and very gently look at their insides to see if you can see a tiny plant.

t seleriana pup

Like that!

Or..

T brachycaulos pup

like this (just in the centre, like a baby bird).

Or on a Tillandsia caput-medusae

tillandsia c-m pup

A slightly lighter silvery green shoot nestling in an older leaf,

And a slightly different variation:

fuchsii grac pup.jpg

Tillandisa fuchsii var. gracilis produces a pup towards the centre/top of the plant. You can see the flower spike towards the top right of the picture.

And this is how they grow up:

t-brachy-big-pup.jpgT c-m pup

Air plant lore also has it that the parent plant will die; some will die but as you can tell it doesn’t happen right away. Many species will survive for years after flowering.

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How can I tell if my air plant is going to flower?

In the south east corner of the UK, my air plants seem to flower either in the late summer or in the late winter (very roughly).

It takes a long time for them to build up to it, rather like giving out ‘save the day’ cards to all their friends, and then faffing around for months about what to wear.

The main signs are flushing of leaves – green leaves getting a pinkish or reddish tinge to them. I have my suspicions about this Tillandsia ionantha:

flowering 2

The second is a change in the balance of growth or shape of the plant.

flowering 3

Above is a Tillandsia brachycaulos that I actually thought was protesting about poor light levels. It produced the stretched section of stem that you can see in the centre of the photo. I brought it home from the office and stuck it somewhere more conducive and within a couple of days I noticed that the leaves were flushing. Ah.

flowering 4

Tillandsia tectorum above, has recently started growing taller in the middle, which may be an indication that it is initiating flowering or it may not. If it is I will post more pictures.

flowering 5

Tillandsia seleriana above, shows no flushing, but a definite change in growth habit, with a paler section growing in a slightly different direction to the main plant. It took another month before the bud was visible.

flowering 6

Some plants, like Tillandsia fuchsii var. gracilis above just stick out a flower without warning. This was the first I noticed of this one. It may be that the slight bunching of the leaves in the centre was a clue.