TILLANDSIA BRACHYCAULOS/CAPITATA COMPLEX

By: Derek Butcher

First let us delete Tillandsia capitata var. guzmanioides from our discussion. According to L B Smith there was a variety guzmanioides which Renate Ehlers has shown is worthy of species status and is now known as T. lautneri. It comes from the cloud forest of Mexico and Guatemala and is very difficult in cultivation. It is not in Australia but is probably in captivity in Germany. Photo 1
Tillandsia lautneri
Tillandsia lautneri
Photo 2
Tillandsia lautneri
Tillandsia lautneri
First we have to appreciate what is a T. capitata and in Smith & Downs we have brachycaulos 330, abdita 331, and capitata 332. (T. cryptantha and T. bradeana are treated as synonyms of T. brachycaulos, and T. tephrophylla from Vinales is treated as a synonym of T. capitata)

Gardner, in 1986 had then abdita 68, brachycaulos 69, and capitata 70.
So they are very close.

Photo 3
drawing
Let us look at a drawing as to how to differentiate. First know what you are looking for.
Starting from the left we have a floral branch looking from the inside out. It contains a pair of flowers each with bracts, sepals, petals and exserted stamens. Next is the floral bract and then the three sepals showing the anterior one free and the posterior pair joined. These are the crucial parts to remember.
If there are no trichomes on the floral bract (or sepals for that matter!) think brachycaulos or velutina.

Photo 4
Tillandsia brachycaulos
Tillandsia brachycaulos
Primary bracts cherry red
Photo 5
Tillandsia velutina
Tillandsia velutina
Primary bracts carmine red and leaves velvety to the touch

If there are trichomes on the floral bract and on the sepals think Tillandsia abdita!
**Notes added 2004. The ill-defined T. abdita is now treated as being the equally ill-defined T. bradeana -See Binomial List 2002. While I agree that the Type specimen of T. bradeana did come from Costa Rica it was treated by Lyman Smith as synonymous with T. brachycaulos AND yet in 1961 he described the new species T. abdita. I believe, because of the uncertainty of what constitutes a T. abdita it should be treated as a T. brachycaulos!

**Note added 2006. Although Harry Luther maintains that T. bradeana is the proper old name for T. abdita - and he could well be correct - this taxon will continue to be referred to as T. abdita in this article

Photo 6
Tillandsia abdita, Selby
Tillandsia abdita Selby
Photo 7
Tillandsia abdita, Hick
Tillandsia abdita Hick
Photo 8
Tillandsia abdita flower
Tillandsia abdita flower
Photo 9
Tillandsia abdita Ehlers
Tillandsia abdita Ehlers

Now we come to THE problem. Renate Ehlers tells us that all the plants she has examined have no trichomes on the floral bract or the sepal making it a T. brachycaulos according to L.B.Smith's treatment and Gardner's treatment. Andrew Flower from New Zealand tells me his plant has no trichomes on either floral bract or sepal (after I asked him to check!) and I suspect the same applies to the Selby Gardens specimen. The description also says scape very small which links with the Ehler's plant but none of the other three ; here the scape is prominent suggesting links with T. capitata. If we treat Ehler's plant as a T. brachycaulos how can we possibly link the other 3 to T. abdita. In a complex where length of scape and glabrous/lepidote floral bracts and sepals play key roles in separating the species these factors cannot be ignored when trying to link these three plants to T. abdita. A true T. abdita with small scape and trichomes on both floral bract and sepals must be very rare indeed and a new name and description should be prepared if it is considered these plants are in fact a separate species or a variety of T. brachycaulos.

Francisco Morales of Costa Rica has been doing some research (Sept 1999) into this species - Refer INBio Web site. He refers to Smith's original description but does not point out the differences that he must have found and should have commented on. He has not responded to my queries! These are:-

  Smith Morales
Scape Very short 5.5 to 10cm long
Floral bracts exceed sepals
carinate
lepidote
shorter or equalling
not carinate
glabrous
Sepals free not noted

If we follow this new information the matter becomes even more complex when we only rely on whether the bracts or sepals have trichomes. To my mind T. abdita differs from T. brachycaulos by having a pronounced scape and T. abdita differs from T. capitata by the purplish leaves (but then T. capitata can have these too!) In all it is very puzzling that a very variable T. capitata is accepted as, too, is a narrowly defined T. abdita (but proved variable - see above) both in description and geographical distribution. T. capitata in the broad sense has been found as far south as Honduras. Has it been found in Costa Rica? Its close relative T. brachycaulos certainly has. The answer lies in Costa Rica where more research is necessary.

Let us leave that problem and say there are no trichomes on the sepals. Remember floral bract yes, sepals no! You should have 1 or 2 flowers per branch. What happens if you have up to 7 flowers per branch? Remember the old T. brachycaulos v. multiflora which had a similar number? It is now considered a natural hybrid between T. brachycaulos and T.caput-medusae. Think T. vinalesensis. Never heard of it? Well, in 1991 Lydia and Gerhard Kohres collected a few plants near Vinales in Cuba which is the same area that T. tephrophylla Harms grows.( Note here that Smith treated T. tephrophylla as synonymous with T. capitata)

The type species for T. capitata is Wright3274 from Oriente, Cuba. In 1956 Rohweder linked T. tephrophylla of Harms (Ekmann16693) from Vinales, Cuba with Matuda's guzmanioides from Chiapas, Mexico (this is now T. lautneri and out of the discussion). Rohweder in 1956 (Die Farinosae in der Vegetation von El Salvador, Hamburg 1956) compared Wright 3274 and Ekmann16693 and said "T. tephrophylla is in all parts bigger than T. capitata, it has a descending scape with very big and wide scape-bracts with sheaths much longer than the spike and concealing the spike. Leaves and primary bracts are less stiff than in T. capitata." According to his comments T. tephrophylla should be a good species on its own.

When comparing her "vinalesensis" with "domingensis" Ehlers says they are similar in habit and inflorescence but "vinalesensis" is much larger in all respects and the inflorescence with a many flowered spike, not 1 or 2 flowers. Could Wright 3274 as a small capitata be linked to "domingensis" the Dominican Republic form of Rauh indicating that the "island" forms of T. capitata are in fact different to the mainland forms? The proposed T. vinalesensis by Ehlers could well be the old T. tephrophylla even though branches of only 1 - 2 flowers were reported. Compare the photos of T. vinalesensis with those of Dominican Republic #37 & 38

Photo 10
Tillandsia vinalesensis
Tillandsia vinalesensis
Photo 11
Tillandsia vinalesensis flower
Tillandsia vinalesensis flower

This finally clears the way to look at the complex subject of T. capitata. So far things have been simple!!

T. capitata generally grow at higher altitudes and are more used to a wider range of temperatures and perhaps this is why they seem easier to grow than T. brachycaulos.

Let us look at some forms of T. capitata starting at the northerly part of its range in the State of Jalisco, Mexico and work our way south. Try to keep these photographs in mind because I'll be wanting you to try to help me link these habitat identified plants of Renate Ehlers with Nurserymen's names. Drawings are by the late Wilhelm Weber.

Photo 12
T. capitata, Autlan
Tillandsia capitata
Autlan, State of Jalisco
Photo 13
T. capitata, Autlan
Tillandsia capitata
Autlan, plant
Photo 14
T. capitata, Autlan
Tillandsia capitata
Autlan, flower


Photo 15
T. capitata, Guzman Jalisco
Tillandsia capitata
Guzman, State of Jalisco
Photo 16
T. capitata, Guzman Jalisco
Tillandsia capitata
Guzman, flower
Photo 17
T. capitata, Chilapa Guerrero
Tillandsia capitata
Chilapa, State of Guerrero
Drawing only
Photo 18
T. capitata, Acahuizotla Guerrero
Tillandsia capitata
Acahuizotla, State of Guerrero
Drawing only

Photo 19
T. capitata, El Rincon Guerrero
Tillandsia capitata
El Rincon, State of Guerrero
Drawing
Photo 20
T. capitata, El Rincon Guerrero
Tillandsia capitata
El Rincon
Photo 21
T. capitata, El Tepehuaje Guerrero
Tillandsia capitata
El Tepehuaje, State of Guerrero
grows up to 1m tall
Photo 21a
T. capitata, El Tepehuaje Guerrero
Tillandsia capitata
El Tepehuaje, Guerrero
flower

Photo 22
T. capitata, Yosondua Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Yosondua, State of Oaxaca
Photo 23
T. capitata, Yosondua Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Yosondua, flower
Photos 23a & 23b
Tillandsia rhodocephalaTillandsia rhodocephala habitat
Tillandsia rhodocephala

This seems to be the right place to introduce T. rhodocephala because this was growing in the same area albeit terrestrially whereas the smaller T. capitata was growing saxicolously. It is clearly related to T. capitata and many of the quoted differences could well have been caused by its terrestrial and crowding habit increasing the time and amount of moisture available to the plant. The lack of roots could well be explained by the surplus of water. The reason why all plants were terrestrial could also be explained by sterile plants only reproducing by offsets, with the possibility of hybrid or mutation origin. In the description no mention was made of other tillandsias in the area other than the small yellow-bracted T. capitata. Although found in 1991 no attempt has been made to see if it sets viable seed to be grown on to prove its specific rank.

Photo 24
Tillandsia capitata, Camaron Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Camaron, State of Oaxaca
this seems the same as from Yosondua
Photo 25
Tillandsia capitata, Camaron Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Camaron, flower


Photo 26
T. capitata, Tlaxiaco Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Tlaxiaco, State of Oaxaca
this seems the same as from Yosondua
Photo 27
T. capitata, Tlaxiaco Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Tlaxiaco, plant
Photo 28
T. capitata, Tlaxiaco Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Tlaxiaco, flower

Photo 29
T. capitata, Pocutla Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Pocutla, State of Oaxaca
Note the bracts and sepals.
Is this T. brachycaulos or is it another link between T. brachycaulos and T. capitata as Renate Ehlers suggests
Photo 30
T. capitata, Pocutla Oaxaca
Tillandsia capitata
Pocutla, plant

Photo 30a
T. capitata, Janitzo Chiapas
Tillandsia capitata
Janitzo, State of Chiapas
Photo 30b
T. capitata, Janitzo Chiapas
Tillandsia capitata
Janitzo, flower

Photo 30c
T. capitata Rubra, Chiapas
Tillandsia capitata
Rubra from Chiapas
In BirdRock catalogue as TO33 Locality unknown so cannot fit into my Mexico map Not the same as the 'Rubra' #42 below
Photo 30d
T. capitata Rubra Narrow leaf, Chiapas
Tillandsia capitata
Rubra Narrow leaf from Chiapas
In BirdRock catalogue as TO341.1

Photo 31
Mexico map.
Mexico map
This shows how these plants fit into Mexico but there are still lots of missing spaces.
If you would like to explore more detailed maps of Mexico and it's States. Try this link!

Guatemala is the land of the dreaded Guatemalan Tillandsia sphaerocephala or was it T. xerographica x T. brachycaulos. This plant certainly had Meyer and Feldhoff, two plant distributors in Guatemala somewhat confused. Renate Ehlers actually went to Guatemala to solve the mystery and we nearly had a new species BUT as you have seen she couldn't work out the variations in the Mexican forms and changed her mind. She found the plant near the Rio Hondo near Zacapa. It is probably the largest T. capitata. However, there seems to be sufficient differences for it to be a species in its own right.

Photo 32
Tillandsia capitata, Rio Hondo
Tillandsia capitata
Rio Hondo, Guatemala
Photo 33
Tillandsia capitata, Rio Hondo
Tillandsia capitata
Rio Hondo, plant. Typical habit
Photo 34
Tillandsia capitata, Rio Hondo
Tillandsia capitata
Rio Hondo, flower


Next country is Honduras
Photo 35
Tillandsia capitata, Honduras
Tillandsia capitata
Honduras
Is this the only form found in this country?
Photo 36
Tillandsia capitata, Honduras
Tillandsia capitata
Honduras, flower

Venezuela

Photo 36a
T. capitata, Venezuela
Tillandsia capitata, Venezuela


A plant named T. capitata v. domingensis was not correctly described by Rauh and not accepted by botanists but it certainly looks different to other T. capitata forms.

Dominican Republic
Photo 37
Tillandsia capitata, Dominican Republic
Tillandsia capitata
Dominican Republic
Photo 38
Tillandsia capitata, Dominican Republic
Tillandsia capitata
Dominican Republic
inflorescence

Now we have looked at the various plants discussed you may like to view a chart that shows where to look for differences and shows how complex things are!

  abdita
*LBS
abdita
*JFM
brachy x caput brachycaulos capitata rio hondo rhodocephala velutina vinalesensis
Visible scape no yes no no yes yes yes no yes
Spike approx 7 flower no no yes no no no no no yes
Floral bract trichomes yes no yes no yes no at apex no yes
Sepals trichomes yes yes yes no no no no no no
Posterior sepals joined no ? yes & no yes & no yes yes yes yes yes
Floral Bracts exceed sepals yes equals ? equals equals no yes no no

*LBS = Lyman B. Smith          *JFM = J. Francisco Morales

Now let us look at Nurserymen's plants and see how they fit. Why can't they supply collection areas? Why do they give fancy names instead of identifying the form by its geographical location?

Photo 39
Tillandsia capitata 'Marron'
Tillandsia capitata 'Marron'
Photo 40
Tillandsia capitata 'Marron'
T. capitata 'Marron', flower
Photo 41
Tillandsia capitata Peach
Tillandsia capitata Peach
Is this the same as that from
Rio Hondo?
Photo 42
Tillandsia capitata Rubra
Tillandsia capitata Rubra
Is this the same as that from Guzman?


Photo 43
Tillandsia capitata 'Marie'
Tillandsia capitata Marie
Received as
Vriesea barclayana
from an Australian seller
Photo 44
Tillandsia capitata 'Marie'
Tillandsia capitata Marie
flower
Photo 45
Tillandsia capitata Yellow
Tillandsia capitata Yellow
Is this the same as that from Tlaxiaco?
Photo 46
Tillandsia capitata Yellow
Tillandsia capitata Yellow
Not the same as that other yellow. Must have come from a different nurseryman!!

Photo 47
Tillandsia capitata Red
Tillandsia capitata
Red Form
Photo 48
Tillandsia capitata Yellow
Tillandsia capitata Yellow
another yellow
Must be my cultural conditions. Does this link with the Honduras photo?
Photo 49
Tillandsia capitata 'Old Gold'
Tillandsia capitata
'Old Gold'


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