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Gray Tillandsia: Protective fur

Not all Tillandsia have this unusual silvery-gray appearance, but it is typical for species found in arid regions. To cope with harsh environmental conditions, gray Tillandsias have evolved a covering of complex hairs shaped like tiny thumbtacks. The stalk of these hairs is made of living cells covered with a shield of dead air-filled cells.

This silvery layer of hair helps to protect Tillandsia from the sun, reflecting as much as 30% of the insolation. The tiny scales are also very effective at absorbing moisture from fog, dew, and the occasional rainfall. Water is first soaked up by the paper-like shield of the scale, then directed inside the plant along the pin-shaped center of living cells.

Thanks to this special hair cover, Tillandsias can even live in deserts. They’re one of the few epiphytic plants that can even grow on cacti. If you turn around, you’ll see a few Tillandsia on some of our columnar cacti.

Audio file download
Gray Tillandsia: Protective fur (MP3, 461 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Andreas Gröger, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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