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.
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