The great love affair…
Tillandsia Houston is yet another hybrid plant I somehow came to own despite not favouring hybrids, being a cross between T. stricta and T. recurvifolia (formerly known as T. meridionalis). It is an incredible blend of these two species, taking the best features of both its parents with the resulting hybrid plant being an relatively fast-growing, leafy and beautifully silver-coloured plant. It takes after its stricta parent, in that it is incredibly leafy and grows in a beautiful rosette shape, while the recurvifolia parent explains its frosty silver appearance. The plants that I have seen in the local nurseries were normally about 5″ to 6″ across, although I have read of specimens which reach a foot across in diameter!
T. stricta is one of the most wide ranging species of tillandsia, and as a result there are very many variations. You can read more about it and my lack of love for T. stricta as a whole in my earlier post about this species. T. recurvifolia, on the other hand, was a plant that was instantly on my wish list because of its silver colouring which I must admit I am incredibly partial to in Tills. T. recurvifolia has stiff, silvery-grey leaves and it tends to be secund i.e. the leaves point towards one direction. Having said which, there is actually a sub-species called T. recurvifolia var. subsecundifolia, which implies that the former should not be secund. However, based on the plants that I have, it seems to be the former that is far more secund than the latter. Oh well, I do not presume to be learned in the intricacies involved in the naming of Tills and I guess this is just one of those things which make up the very many gaps in my knowledge that I will just have to live with! Pictures from my collection of both parent species are included below for your viewing pleasure.
T. recurvifolia (giant)
T. recurvifolia var. subsecundifolia
Well, back to T. Houston. This plant was not on my wish list in any way, primarily because as I have mentioned in my previous posts, I am not a huge fan of T. stricta and therefore tend to dismiss its hybrids out of hand. Combined with the rather unimpressive specimens available at the nurseries, this became one of those plants I picked up at the local nursery simply because I did not already have one. The funny thing was, on the very day I picked one up, hubby happened to be on a company trip to Cameron Highlands* which included a stop at some of the famed nurseries located there. He was under strict instructions to buy Tills if he came across any and he dutifully brought three home. And because that is just the way these things go, included in the three plants he brought home was a T. Houston. So I went from zero to two within the span of a day.
This is probably a good time to confess that neither of the plants I bought came with tags and therefore I am merely presuming they are T. Houstons. I sure hope I have got it right though, because otherwise I am going to have a whole lot of editing to do on this post! Anyway pics of the two plants when I first got them back in March 2012 are below; pretty plants but nothing to shout about in my mind. And yes those are two different plants!
All right, time for another confession. The plants I have are so similar to each other I have long ago lost track of which plant is which. If I am forced to I believe I can identify the nursery I bought them from, provided I have them to hand, by looking at the wiring, and studying their roots and the base of both plants, but I am not even going to attempt to do so through pictures. However because I always make sure I do not take a pic of one T. Houston immediately after another, you can rest assured that I am posting pics of two different plants. Therefore while I am labeling the upcoming pics as ‘Plant A’ and ‘Plant B’ in order to differentiate the pictures, do take note that ‘Plant A’ is not necessarily the same plant throughout! Sorry for the confusion, and I am now starting to rethink my brilliant idea of writing about two identical looking plants in the same post.
Anyway, back to the topic on hand. As I do with all my newly acquired Tills, I put these plants under shelter where they received the morning sun up until about 11am but from where they are also protected from the rains, so I was able to control the watering frequency. After three months, both plants look more spread out and seemed happy enough.
After about six months both plants were evicted from their sheltered area by newer plants and were therefore forced out into the elements. This meant thunderstorms galore and direct sun up until midday to 1pm. The result? Each plant gave out one pup each.
And after nine months, both plants had yet another new pup each despite not having flowered. So I was officially on my way to having two T. Houston clumps. By this time both plants were out in the open and enjoying the stormy weather immensely, and it was at around this point that I started to fall in love with this hybrid. It had turned from a fairly uninteresting looking closed up plant to a spiky, semi-spherical, silver delight.
A full year after getting my two T. Houstons, I noticed something about these two plants. Which is, whenever one pups, the other is sure to follow. This is in spite of the fact that for the first nine months they were kept about 10 feet apart with marginally different lighting conditions. During the subsequent eight months however I put them closer to each other and they were probably no more than 3 feet apart, so somewhat unsurprisingly this theory still holds. Just last week I noticed yet another pup in one of the clumps and I immediately checked the other but did not spot anything. However, this very afternoon I found what I was looking for. Guess it just goes to show the impact of the growing environment on the plants. Anyway, the pictures below were taken in April 2013, so a year after purchase, and what a difference a year makes!
It has been 17 months since I bought these plants and since then each plant has sent out four pups. Therefore I am now the proud owner of two beautiful T. Houston clumps comprising 5 individual plants, and yes two of the pups are still admittedly rather tiny, but that still counts in my book. Although the clumps are beautiful, I am somewhat regretting not having separated some of the pups previously. Perhaps I should have left one to clump while continuously dividing the other. The pups are now so well established however that I can no longer differentiate between parent and pup. Because of this, I now dare not separate them for fear of damaging the parent plant, particularly with a plant such as this, whereby the pup is so deeply embedded. I have researched online for the best way of separating such pups, and I understand a sharp knife in combination with a steady hand are the key ingredients, but I simply have not gotten up the courage to even make an attempt at separating them. Quite frankly, unless something drastic happens, I think they will remain clumps for the foreseeable future.
Caring for T. Houston is easy enough, requiring just the basic tillandsia care. Mine get direct morning sun up until about 2pm and also have to put up with high temperatures, but I do try to water them daily unless it has rained. Watering consists of dunking them in a pail of water, a slight shake and then they are left to dry. Keep in mind however, that my area is hot, windy and dry so they tend to be able to dry out fairly quickly. With clumps though, the problem is always whether the centre is able to dry out and it is incredibly deceiving because whilst the outer leaves tend to dry quickly, peeling back leaves you will sometimes find that the centre is still damp a full day after watering. The danger of course being that rot will set in. This is the main reason I am not a huge fan of clumps in my tropical climate, but I cannot deny the beauty of a clump so I guess I will just have to be a little more watchful over these guys.
T. Houstons are relatively easy to get your hands on, with a number of nurseries here selling them, so do get one if you can. After all I started out totally uninterested and yet I am now raving about them, and this is before they have even flowered. A clump in bloom is something I am really looking forward to now!
* For my non-Malaysian readers, Cameron highlands is located about 200km from Kuala Lumpur and is located at elevations ranging from 1,200m to 1,500m. As a result it has average temperatures of between 18C to 25C compared to the tropical temps in excess of 30C we get elsewhere in Malaysia. This means it has numerous flower nurseries and vegetable farms that take advantage of the cooler temps for growing more temperate plants. Nowadays however, there has been such rapid, uncontrolled development in that area and the deforestation is so excessive that unfortunately, cooler temps are seemingly a thing of the past.
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