This large family of bromeliads is commonly found throughout Texas, Mexico, and Central and South America. Most are epiphytes (tree dwellers) that depend on rain, dew, and fog for moisture. A few grow in soil. Plants vary greatly in size and appearance. Leaves may be wide, narrow (even hairlike), or sword shaped; they may be twisted or curled. Those with green leaves generally need regular water and filtered light; types with gray- green to bluish foliage need less water and tolerate more sun. Often seen mounted on plaques of wood that are hung on walls, indoors or out; also look good in containers filled with loose, fast-draining potting mix. Let the mix go dry between waterings.
T. caput-medusae. From Mexico and Central America. Mass of curling, channeled, gray-green leaves to 1 ft. long resembles the head of Medusa. Blooms in late spring, producing a foot-long spike with red bracts and blue flowers. Prefers bright filtered light.
T. cyanea. From Ecuador. Rosette of bright green, arching, 1-ft. leaves produces a showy flower cluster in spring or autumn: a flattened plume of deep red or pink bracts, from which violet-blue flowers emerge one or two at a time over a long season.
T. ionantha. From Mexico and Nicaragua. Rosettes of 2-in.-long leaves covered with silvery gray fuzz. Small, tubular spring flowers are violet; at bloom time, center of rosette turns red. Tough and undemanding plant.
T. juncea. Native from southern Florida to northern South America. Forms a rosette of upright, very narrow, 12- to 16-in.-long leaves in olive-green tinged with copper. Short, erect inflorescence appears in summer, consists of bright red bracts and bluish purple petals.
T. latifolia. From Ecuador and Peru. Bayonet-shaped gray-green leaves to 8 in. long. Blossom spike reaches 15 in. tall, with yellow-orange bracts and flowers ranging in color from fuchsia to blue. Spring bloom.
T. recurvata. BALL MOSS. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. From southern U.S. and South America. Ball-like clusters of gray-green leaves to 6 in. across grow on the branches; blue-violet flowers bloom in summer.
T. usneoides. SPANISH MOSS. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Native from Florida and Texas south to Argentina. Drapes itself on live oaks (Quercus virginiana), cypresses (Taxodium), and telephone lines, hanging as long as 15 ft.; a live oak draped with Spanish moss is a classic image of the South. Greenish gray stems and leaves are wiry, threadlike. Has no roots. Inconspicuous green flowers in late spring or fall. Thrives in shade and high humidity; very sensitive to air pollution.