The great love affair…

Tillandsia caput-medusae

Ahhh Tillandsia caput-medusae… this is most definitely one of my favorites.  To me it sums up what tills are, which is a little quirky and a little out there, after all how can plants grow without soil?  And caputs just do not look like a conventional plant, its leaves do not even look like leaves!  Caputs are native to Central America and Mexico, growing on tree branches located in dry areas with strong sun. On my current wishlist is the caput-medusae Sonoran Snow, which is a variety which originates solely from the Sonoran desert in Mexico.  It differs from the more common  variety by being much whiter, hence the term ‘snow’.  And what could possibly be more attractive than a white caput?

Anyway, I digress, caputs derive their name from the goddess of Greek mythology, Medusa, whose head of hair was a bunch of writhing snakes.  And caputs with their circular undulating leaves does indeed resemble a mess of writhing creatures!  Its base is bulbous and the leaves are a light green.  Luckily for me, caputs are pretty common so it is easy to get your hands on one.  I got mine in May 2012 and it was already a nice mature plant.  Some examples do get pretty large, but I think 6″ to 8″ is the norm.

This plant must have originally been hung upside down because the leaves were very straight when I got it.  Mounting the plant upside down or sideways is highly recommended for bulbose plants such as caputs to prevent water from collecting in the base and potentially causing rot.  Me however I like to go against such advice just for the fun of it, so I hang it upright.  The recent wet weather did see me give in to these wise words and the plant was upside down for awhile, but now that more sunny days seem to be upon us the plant is right way up again.  Caputs are actually ageotropic, which means they don’t orient themselves using gravity, so they grow very nicely horizontally, upside down, upright or any which way you choose to hang them!  Well after a month hung upright, the leaves were more widespread.

Even more surprising though was the fact that the plant started spiking after a couple of months!  Just look at that sweet pink blush.

The spike did take its sweet time to develop, from the time I first spotted it to the time of its first flower took a good two months.


It is worth it though, as it developed two red-green spikes which gradually turned a nice cherry red as it approached flowering.  I believe I read that the bright red is to attract hummingbirds which is its natural pollinator.  However I can’t seem to locate that article now, so I may just be creating my own facts.  The few hummingbirds that frequent my garden also paid absolutely no attention to the flower, so…

Anyway it finally bloomed two months ago, and the flowers were the typical deep purple.  I did have a go at pollinating the flower, self-pollinating probably, because I don’t recall having anything else in bloom at the time.  But it has been two months now and as yet I have not seen any signs of seed pods developing so probably no luck.  Apparently Tillandsia flowers are most receptive during the early morning hours and I am not an early person, so that probably explains a lot!  It flowered from the bottom up, and took at least three weeks from the very first bloom at the base to the final bloom at the apex.

Easy growing plant that it is, I noticed a pup growing at its base before the plant was even done flowering.  Since then another pup has appeared on the opposite side so it looks like I can now start working on growing my very first caput clump!

As for growing conditions this is a hardy plant and actually thrives in our climate.  This guy gets full morning sun up until about 12pm-1pm, although with the shifting sun I have noticed that the sun actually stays on that area up until 2pm-3pm now.  In such strong light, daily watering is recommended, however as I mentioned earlier, care should be taken to ensure water does not collect at the base if you have it mounted upright.  With caputs it is fairly easy to spot when they are underwatered, as the leaves start to curl more, so use this as a cue to up your watering regime.  It is also a very fast rooter, so if you do decide to mount it, it should be securely rooted on its own within a couple of months.

To end, I highly recommend getting a caput, they are easy to grow, easy to flower in our climate and looks so alien-like you just have to love it!


16 comments on “Tillandsia caput-medusae

  1. Daisy
    January 29, 2013

    Wonderful, picture lady, you’ve done so well growing the Caput so beautifully, really nice to see how its bloomed with the red flowers too, pretty amazing. Just doing a project on Bromeliads, and this really helped. Thanks so much, and keep posting your good work.


  2. minigemm
    January 31, 2013

    Thanks for reading and your kind words. Glad I could be of help in your project and happy growing!

  3. Colleen
    March 14, 2013

    I bought a few of these tilly’s and will be placing them outdoors here in Ventura, CA. What area do you live in?

    • minigemm
      March 14, 2013

      Hi Colleen,

      Thanks for dropping by. It sounds like you are wondering about having tills outdoors the whole year round? If so, I am actually located in Malaysia where it is always hot and sunny, therefore am not the best person to advise. I understand they should be hardy enough to survive temps down to about 5-10C perhaps? Although with tills you have to be careful to avoid getting them wet and cold. Perhaps some other readers here located nearer to you who may be able to share their experiences.

  4. Kenneth
    April 23, 2013

    my medusae flower got injured… also, do i need to prevent watering the flowering part? please advise..

    • minigemm
      April 24, 2013

      Kenneth, what do you mean by injured? I have read that it is best not to get the flower wet, but personally I don’t think it does the flower any harm if it gets wet whilst you are misting the plant. Of course if you soak the plant overnight that would be a different matter all together!

  5. IR
    August 1, 2013

    Hi you till lovers out there. I have an issue with my Caput and I don’t understand why, so perhaps someone would recognize it and give me some advice.
    So, I bought my Caput about a year ago and kept it in the house over winter and spring (I live in Western Europe, climate comparable to Seattle, as far as I can figure). It did well for a couple of months, shot out new leaves, and then almost all leaves, especially the new ones, dried suddenly. It’s been like this fo rmore than six months now, neither dying completely not showing any growth, just two or three green leaves, stagnating. I treat it like all my other tills, which are growing happily. An Ionantha started turning red, so it should spike soo, I guess. The others seem to prosper, but the Caput is “in comma”. They all get bright light with some direct sun morning and eveng, misting 2-3 times a week in winter and almost daily in summer (this sumer turned out to be unusually hot, so they seem to like it).
    Any clues?

    • minigemm
      August 23, 2013

      Hi, it’s hard to work out exactly what has happened without seeing the actual plant. Combined with the fact that I never tried my hand at growing Tills while I was over in Europe makes me hesitant to offer advise.

      Having said which… it is likely one of two things. The plant is too dry or too wet (i.e. rot). What I would suggest is maybe give the new leaves a gentle tug to see if it comes out? If it does come out and the base of the leaf is black, it is rot. Just keep tugging at the leaves until you get one that is clean. The other option is that it is too dry, in which case up the watering.

      Tills are hardy plants, and can somehow seemingly survive for months with neglect but will suddenly reach a point where it just drops dead. Because of this, you can sometimes end up buying a seemingly healthy plant yet it just will not thrive. It is all part and parcel of having Tills. This probably isn’t very helpful, but I guess it is a good reason to get your hands on another caput and give it another go!

      • IR
        August 26, 2013

        Thanks Minigemm for your answer. I tend to think it was a case of sudden collapse after neglect in the nursery, since all my other tills get the same treatment and are doing fine. The Caput-medusae in question seems to sprout some new growth, even though quite shy, after about nine months of stagnation. So it might come back after all.
        Thanks again and keep up the good blog.

  6. Denise Fennell
    December 6, 2013

    I just got my first plant and very excited. I’m going to have to figure out how to get it more sun I think. I live in Oregon and not one of my windows is a south facing window. I am hoping that it will grow fine, just maybe not flower without the sun exposure. They are so intriguing to look at. Thanks for the info!

  7. Zeek
    February 11, 2014

    I love your blog, you have all these before/after also records of the tilly. It’s really helpful to newbie like me. I’m from Singapore, only have my caput-medusae for 2 weeks, it doesn’t seems to grow.

    The green color is not as nice as yours, more like khaki green. At first, tried direct sun by the window but seems too hot that the tips get burnt. So use dappled light, but doesn’t seems to improve.

    Most comments I saw was that caput-medusae need good light, but yesterday saw an article that it needs good light but away from the sun. I know my bulbosa is doing really well after I moved it from window to under the shade of my money plant. It’s exciting waking up to check on the bulbosa as it seems to grow a little bit every day.

    May I know where do you shop for your Tillandsia in KL/Selangor? May want to get my mother-in-law some on my next trip there 🙂

    Thanks again for this wonderful blog.

    • minigemm
      May 17, 2014

      Thanks for reading Zeek. I know this reply is beyond late, but will give it a go anyway. Caputs should be able to tolerate direct sun for at least a few hours a day. You don’t specify whether it is morning or afternoon sun that your window gets? You may want to keep it out of direct midday sun if you worry about burnt leaves, also my plants are outdoors, if you have yours near a window perhaps the glass is intensifying the heat. Anyway my caputs are acclimatised to direct sun so they do well with morning sun up until about 2pm, which includes the midday sun. I would suggest you not move the plant about too much. Give it a couple of months to adjust to its new surroundings. Browning of older leaves is perfectly normal, so long as you see new growth coming up you should not worry. The colour of the plant depends on the mix of sunlight and water it gets. To me, the darker green would suggest it received less sunlight than my plant. It’s nothing to worry about as the colouring of the plant does indeed change slightly depending on the environment in which it grows.

      As to where I buy Tills, I mainly head to Sg. Buloh nurseries adjacent to the hospital. They have a decent range of beginner plants so you should be able to get your hands on a few plants for your mother-in-law to start of with.

      Again, sorry for the late reply and hope it can be of some help!

  8. Michelle
    May 1, 2014

    I was wondering how many types of Caput Medusae there are and whats the difference between those that are green and those that are dark purple?

    • minigemm
      May 17, 2014

      Michelle, I don’t know exactly how many different types of caputs are out there. The differences arise mainly because caputs have such a very wide ranging habitat in nature. Therefore depending on the local environment in which the plants grow, they develop slightly different characteristics over the generations, such as thicker trichomes, or variations in colouring, while some develop larger more bulbous bases or longer leaves. So the variations you see is due to where the original plants were collected from in the wild. Do keep in mind also that the naming of many of these variations originate from nurseries who are keen to push their plant as being unusual and rare so it should be taken with a grain of salt. I would say that all the variations still look like caputs, just with certain more exaggerated characteristics.

      Hope that helps.

  9. Advisor
    February 16, 2015

    Hello! I happen to own one of the Medusa plant that’s similar to your. I am just curious what kind of care i should give to the plant? In term of the daily sunlight or water, like should I expose it to the sun? or how often do I water it?

    Currently I realize the tip of the plant is dry up 4mm, so I’m not sure if is too dry.

    I am living in Malaysia.

    Please advise! =)

  10. Sheema
    November 13, 2015

    As a tilly newbie (few months in now) I am absolutely loving your blog!!! Like you, I couldn’t find a lot of helpful advice online that was specifically relevant to keeping and growing tillies in Malaysia…so I’ve been groping in the dark a bit (luckily none of my tillies have died so far!!). Your blog has been very helpful to me and I’m kinda sad to see that you stopped blogging after early 2014.

    Just thought I should point out though: those birds visiting your garden were most definitely not hummingbirds!!! Hummingbirds are strictly Neotropical species, i.e. confined only to the Americas. We don’t have them here in Malaysia. So what you saw in your garden were most probably sunbirds…definitely not natural pollinators for tillies!

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This entry was posted on November 16, 2012 by in caput-medusae, Tillandsia and tagged , , , , , , , , , .


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