This is a species that we discovered in the early 1980's in southern Mexican state of Chiapas. In all my years of collecting this was one of the most intriguing discoveries I made. The population of T. ehlersiana was growing abundantly on rock cliffs. Just 30 feet directly in front of the rock cliff were oak trees which were loaded with T. caput-medusae, T. seleriana, T. streptophylla and T. brachycaulos. The trees were also covered with ants. The interesting thing about the population of T. ehlersiana is that it was a hybrid swarm. (A hybrid swarm is a population of plants that appear to be natural hybrids. They are in transition to becoming a species.)
I have discovered many natural hybrids in Mexico. The majority of these are found with just a few plants or a very small population. The T. ehlersiana population had three distinct forms. The typical T. ehlersiana, a form that appears to be a natural hybrid of T. ehlersiana and T. streptophylla, and one that is a natural hybrid of T. ehlersiana and T. seleriana.
The true test for a species is that it can reproduce from seed. We have been growing T. ehlersiana from seed for more than 15 years now, and the seedlings turn out true to T. ehlersiana. I do believe that T. ehlersiana was a natural hybrid, and that it has established as a true species. In all the years that I collected and explored, I believe that with this discovery I was witnessing true evolution of a new species.
This same species was discovered 3 years later by Renate Ehlers and was described by Prof. Werner Rauh as T. ehlersiana.
I have a few photos of T. ehlersiana and T. ehlersiana x T. streptophylla on my site at www.birdrocktropicals.com. Go to the Tillandsia pages, and check under E and also the Tillandsia hybrids.
This article originally appeared in correspondence from the Brom-L discussion group.