ENDANGERED: Tillandsia utriculata - Giant Wild-Pine
Every once in a while, Nature gifts me something to enjoy and to take care of. One of my my favorite of these gifts is the oddly named Giant Wild-Pine, or Tillandsia utriculata. These tillandsia are native to Florida, and grow absolutely massive. In many cases, they do so to their own detriment. These plants grow so large, that if they are on the wrong branch, they end up braking the branch or falling as the bark they rooted to breaks off. This problem is especially prevalent if the utriculata seed germinated on a water oak, Quercus nigra, as these oaks are notorious for dropping branches. I have a dozen or so I need to go clean off my lawn as I type!
If that weren't bad enough, our wild utriculata populations have been decimated by illegal collection and by the voracious appetite of the Mexican bromeliad weevil, or Metamasius callizona. People can be educated; although it doesn't seem to stop them from collecting as you can see with a quick EBAY search. The weevil on the otherhand, is just doing what weevils do. This insect was introduced to FL in 1989, presumably in a shipment of bromeliads to a Broward county nursery. Since, it has become established in most areas of Southern Florida and has been seen in the Everglades region - home of the rarest of all Florida native bromeliads. Click here to find more information on these pests.
Tillandsia utriculata are especially effected by these threats because they are one of the few tillandsia which does not produce off sets, or pups. They rely on their seeds alone to propagate the species. Although they do produce thousands of seed per plant, only a small number of these seeds land on a suitable environment for growth, and an even smaller number of those that do, germinate and grow to adulthood.
I've been working to germinate seed here at Morningwood Growers for a few years now with limited success on sphagnum. Over the past 6 years, though, I've logged 4 new utriculata growing in my oaks. These may be from my efforts to seed my oaks or they may not; either way I'm happy they are there and I hope to see them in the "wild" for as long as I am here.
If you have any tips on germination, would like more information on endangered Florida natives, or have a question, please contact me.