Derek the Hybrid Detective

DD0511 Tillandsia ‘kaoldii’ or is it 'kolbii' ?
by Derek Butcher May 2011

The main problem with mis-spelling is the fact that it gets carried on like the plague but even down in Adelaide I know that plants are being grown under this peculiar name in Queensland. I know that your Editor is always asking for articles or letters for your Journal and simple research by the purchaser could easily have prompted a letter to the Editor. There is a wealth of information on the internet where they even help with spelling.
Names are important because it means you are comparing like with like. Humans get very up-tight if you call them by the ‘wrong’ name so why not plants.
In this case you need mental gymnastics to link kaoldii with kolbii but if you saw a ‘kaoldii’ and knew what a kolbii looked like, your problem would be half solved.

“Only half solved?” I hear you ask. Well, the full answer we can blame on the taxonomists and growers only half listening.
40 years ago everybody knew what a Tillandsia ionantha looked like and if you were lucky you may have had a T. ionantha var. scaposa, which needed more shade than your tough old T. ionantha and came from Guatemala. The other difference was the inflorescence which is nestled in the leaf rosette for T. ionantha but raised for the variety scaposa.

30 years ago an odd plant was found in Oaxaca, Mexico and was called T. kolbii. It had some similarities to ionantha but was hastily considered to be the same as the Guatemalan T. ionantha var scaposa. A species name has a higher rank than a variety so we had a temporary name change to T. kolbii. This was great for the nurseries because here we had a plant with two names so it could be sold twice! On the taxonomic side of things Peer pressure changed that hasty decision and we now have a very rare T. kolbii, probably disappeared in the wild and only grown in a few collections in Germany and Austria. BUT NOT Australia.
We are left with the old var. scaposa which to help you write out labels, is now known as Tillandia scaposa.

So if you have a plant called T. kolbii or T. Kaoldii ( shudder shudder) then change its name to T. scaposa BUT only if the inflorescence protrudes!

Photos of T. ionantha and T. scaposa by D. Butcher.

ionantha. Derek Butcher 05/11.
scaposa. Derek Butcher 05/11.

Updated 12/06/11