Cardinal Airplant (Quill Leaf)

Organisms / Plants / Herbaceous Flowers

Tillandsia fasciculata

Pay-Hay-Okee Overlook, Everglades National Park (25.442N, 80.784W)

March 23, 2006

Photograph by Brent Sherwin


Descriptive Information

    Field Marks: The tops of the buds are yellow and green while the base of each is a reddish pink. The buds are tightly packed together with little purple flowers growing off their sides. The plant grows right off of the side of a tree, which makes them epiphytes. The leaves are triangular and the plant looks like the top of a pineapple. We noticed that the plants’ sizes ranged from the size of a golf ball to the size of a hula-hoop.
    Size: Leaves: 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) long; Flowers: 6 inches (15 cm) long.
    General Habitat: Hammocks and Cypress Swamps.
    Range: From Central and Southern Florida to Central America.

Field Observations
We found the Cardinal Airplant in a marshy pineland. The first plant we observed was about 3 feet off the ground and the size of a basketball. The cypress tree it was connected to was 10 inches in diameter at the base. The plant was connected to the tree in the crotch between the trunk of the tree and a branch, which was 6 inches in diameter. We thought that this location was something important to the growth of the plant. But after further examining our surroundings we found other airplants with different dimensions and locations on the cypress. The leaves at the base of the plant are tightly packed together and collect water when it rains. This is an ideal place for mother tree frogs to lay their eggs. The Cardinal Airplant protects the eggs from snakes and other dangers. We found two airplants with Brown Anols crawling out of them; obviously the plants make a good home for them too. The ground surrounding the Cardinal Airplant was soft and squishy, and Saw Grass surrounded the cypress trees in the hammock.

After examining 3 or 4 different plants we left that side of the cypress dome and crossed the road, which bisects the habitat, and entered into the other side. Upon entering we found a “grove” of Cardinal Airplants. Every tree within a 50 foot radius was covered! The plants were several different sizes and were located on the trees from 3 to 20 feet into the air. We concluded that the plant could grow anywhere on the cypress tree and that the distance from the ground did not matter.

Alden, Peter, Richard B. Cech, Amy Leventer, Gil Nelson, and Wendy B. Zomlefer. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Additional Photographs
Aerial View
Purple Flowers

Page developed by Brent Sherwin and Kim Paulien