Derek the Hybrid Detective

DD0210 Tillandsia ‘Scurfy’.
by Derek Butcher January 2010
(Submitted for Registration 02/10)

This all started in 2006 when Len Colgan got some plants from Renate Ehlers called T. chapalillaensis and I was lucky to get one of them. I knew about the plant and was one of those pointing out to Renate that it looked like a natural hybrid. While Renate wrote up a description in 2006 it has not yet been published. This is what Renate reported
“I originally obtained this Tillandsia in 1992 from my friend Jürgen Lautner, Goettingen, Germany. He thought this was a new and undescribed species. But when I saw the flowers, I was nearly certain, that it was a hybrid. The two-coloured petals seem to be a sign of hybrid origin. Juergen insisted that this plant is very common near Chapalilla and that he did not see any putative parents for a hybrid. – But I did not trust him! Nevertheless I made a description which I gave Dr. Walter Till in May 1992. He commented that this was a hybrid between T.juncea and T. schiedeana. I told Juergen that I was not going to describe his plant as it was a hybrid.

In 2004 I was on a trip in Mexico with Jürgen and Ulrich Lautner, Manfred Kretz and Wolfgang Schindhelm. On February 18th, we were driving from Puerto Vallarta in the direction of Tepic on the MEX 15, and we intended to go to the area where Jürgen found his dubious plant, and I was very curious. About 18 km before we reached Chapalilla, we saw the trees coated with many tillandsias. I really was very, very surprised when I saw, that this was THE PLANT by the thousands, growing here. It was not the same place where Jürgen had collected his plants in March 1992, only in the same area. The trees were crowded with it, mostly growing in big clumps, but there also were single growing plants. We also found a few T. pseudosetacea, T. achyrostachys and T. makoyana and rarely T. ionantha.

The plant is growing in large numbers in this region, not only restricted to one location. There was not one T. schiedeana Steudel nor T. juncea Swartz to be seen at this location, and as well, we did not see any in the wider area. At the place where we collected, I would guess there were thousands of T. chapalillaensis, hundreds of T. pseudosetacea, tens of T. makoyana and of T. achyrostachys and a few T. ionantha.

Now I had to admit that Jürgen Lautner was right: the plant is not a hybrid but a good new species. Maybe, or more likely, the plants are of hybrid origin. When a plant has densely populated a large area in such huge numbers and is fertile, it should be treated as a species, not as a hybrid. In the meantime, Jürgen Lautner has adult seedlings from seed he collected in 1992, that flowered in the Botanical Garden of Goettingen several times, and they all look alike.”

2009 saw my plant flower and yes it had bicolored petals but it kept bugging me that I had seen this plant before and yes I found it - called T. schiedeana ‘Scurfy’ that I had got from Maurice Kellett in 1990. In 1991 I also acquired a man-made hybrid from Rolly Reilly called T. schiedeana x T. juncea AND another called T. schiedeana x juncea x schiedeana. The original crossing must have been done in the early 1970’s with the next three way crossing done in the 1980’s but no records were kept. I could cope with the identity of two parents but felt that the plants with three parents needed a name I could record in my Australian hybrids checklist. Rolly came up with ‘Tooshie’ ( for two schiedeana!!) Most were closer to T. schiedeana but some were not far off the formula parent. All that I flowered had a bicolored petals as would be expected from this parentage. Could the ones looking like T. schiedeana have lost their labels and casually given the name of T. schiedeana? This prompted me to start asking Tillnuts to start checking their flowers because all references, including synonyms, to T. schiedeana show either yellow or green petals.

We now move to Tillandsia pueblensis var glabrior which had its name changed to Tillandsia schiedeana subspecies glabrior by Sue Gardner in Selbyana:361-379;1983 & Jour. Brom. Soc 1987 p 163-4
She also placed Tillandsia schiedeana var. totolapensis Weber & Ehlers, in Journ. Bromeliad Soc. 33: 30-33, 1983 under synonymy.
In 2004 Lopez-Ferrari, Espejo & I. Ramirez, promoted it to species status in Selbyana 25(1); 60. 2004 but did not formally describe it. Luckily Weber & Ehlers did a good description of var. totolapensis so we don’t have to rely just on a herbarium specimen.

This is what Sue Gardner had to say:
"Dr. Lyman B. Smith described this plant originally as T. pueblensis var. glabrior from a few dried specimens in 1958. Without fresh flowers, the plant, with its thick, curved, gray-lepidote leaves and small, simple spike, appears similar to T. pueblensis. In 1983, Wilhelm Weber and Renate Ehlers described this same plant as Tillandsia schiedeana var. totolapensis from a living specimen collected in Mexico. Since Dr. Smith's varietal name has precedence it must be conserved even though the species epithet is corrected.

Although this subspecies is more closely related to T. schiedeana than to T. pueblensis, it is distinct from the former by several significant characteristics, most of which are associated with saxicoly. For example, it forms large clumps of a single clone, and individual rosettes have both long, descending stolons and thick, upwardly secund leaves. These characteristics are often found in saxicolous species including T. pueblensis.

Tillandsia schiedeana subsp. schiedeana is widespread, and occurs from northern Mexico to northern South America. Specimens of this subspecies also occur sympatrically with subsp. glabrior. Specimens of the typical subspecies occur also in saxicolous forms. They do not, however, display modification of the typical spherical clumps of stellate rosettes with straight leaf blades joining the leaf sheath at a 90 degree angle. Similarities in inflorescence characteristics of the two taxa support conspecific classification, however, assignment to different subspecies indicates a greater difference than varietal classification does.

Pigmentation of the flowers varies between and within the two subspecies. A larger amount of red pigmentation is typical of the petals of subsp. glabrior with one-half to all of the petal lobes red, whereas in samples from six populations of the typical subspecies only a few specimens in each were found to have a small amount of red pigment at the base of the primarily yellow petals.”

The last paragraph makes interesting reading. While she does stress that there is a predominance of red in ‘glabrior’ the small occurrence of a reddish factor in ‘schiedeana’ can be explained by hybridity! Which brings us back to the premise that petals of T. schiedeana are either yellow or with green tones and when there are red tones involved you should also look at plant and leaf shape.

We now return to the first paragraph to discuss ‘Scurfy’ Maurice can find no record of why he gave this name to the plant and I do not believe there is any link with the Australia man-made hybrids. It is just as likely that this plant came to Australia when he collected with Lau in the 1980’s. That way I can see tenuous links to T. chapalillaensis but not enough to change the name. Thus the name Tillandsia ‘Scurfy’ should be registered and if any of you are growing this ‘schiedeana’ with bicolored petals please change the name.

Derek Butcher 01/10.

'Scurfy' left, chapalillaensis right
Ray Clark 12/20 'Scurfy'
Ray Clark 12/20 chapalillaensis
Ray Clark ... "Cruising around the garden I noticed T. ’Scurfy’ and then T. chapalillaensis both in flower. What caught my eye was the similarities in the growth habit of each plant and also the colours, (hues?) of the flowers on them both also. In the first pic T. ’Scurfy’ is on the left, second pic is ‘Scurfy’ alone and so on."

Updated 03/01/21