Tillandsia is also known as an air plant. Air plants are a member of the epiphyte family. This plant needs no soil to grow and gets its nourishment from the air. Air plants have specialized leaves that draw in nutrients.
An air plant can also have roots, but it uses these only to attach itself to rocks, trees, shrubs and even the ground. They can be displayed in so many creative ways and make wonderful indoor plants.
Air Plants – the house plant that lives on a bit of neglect.
Air plants are common in the Southern US, Mexico, as well as Central and South America. They are epiphytes, a type of plant that actually seems to thrive on a bit of neglect.
My type of plant! As much as I love gardening, there are times when I manage to kill a plant from getting too busy with my life. It is nice to know that there is a plant that will put up with this.
One might think that air plants are parasites since they attach themselves to trees, but epiphytes grow on other plants for physical support and do not normally affect the host plant in a negative way.
What is Tillandsia Moss
Spanish Moss, also known as Tillandsia Usneoides is an ephiphyte often seen in the Southern areas of the USA.
It is a flowering plant that often grows upon larger trees in tropical and subtropical climates. The plant is native to much of Mexico, Central America and South America. It is probably the most common air plant in the United States.
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Care of Air Plants
In spite of the fact that air plants get nourishment from the air, there still do need a few things to grow well.
Circulation – air plants often attach themselves high in trees, so it stands to reason that they need some air circulating around them. You can’t expect to put it in the back of a cupboard and have it thrive. Good air circulation will keep air plants happy.
This image shows an air plant holder with circulation from all sides, allowing more than one air plant to be displayed effectively. Image provided by reader of this blog Lanka W. Thanks for sharing Lanka!
Moisture – Even though air plants don’t need to be watered often, they do need some moisture or they will shrivel and eventually die. Misting with a plant mister, a few times a week, not watering, takes care of this.
During the really warm months, you might need to mist them once a day if they look as though they are shriveling. In the autumn and winter, once or twice a week will do.
For air plants to really do well in a home environment, the whole plant needs to be placed in a container of water once a week and then dried out before placing it back in its container.
Sunlight – Air plants choose trees and shrubs to attach themselves to for a reason. It gives them some protection from full sunlight. Bright filtered light or partial shade will result in the most healthy plants. Colorful air plants such as this Tillandsia ioantha need a bit more like than the plain green ones.
Fertilization – Once a month in the summer months, add some liquid fertilizer made for air plants to the watering mister. Very weak fertilizer ration is best – about 1/4 strength.
Temperature – These are tropical plants. They won’t like it one bit if you leave them outside when the temperature dips below 40ºF. In zones 9 and higher, you can grow them outside all year, but in colder zones, bring them indoors before you hit the mid 40s temps in the fall.
Flowers – Sadly, each air plant will only bloom once in its lifetime. After flowering, the bloom will dry off. Trim off the entire flower stalk to help produce tillandsia pups. These pups are new plants that form at the base of the plant.
Most air plants will bloom eventually but they need the right light and growing conditions to do so. If you are lucky to get yours to flower, be sure to water regularly and fertilize at this time to encourage a long bloom time.
What a great little plant!
Display of Air Plants
Now that you know how to take care of them, what should you use for air plant holders to display them? That is what I love best about air plants. They are happily at home in so many ways. Think outside the box. So many items can be home to your tillandsias.
1. Bird cage planters. Bird cages make great locations for your air plants. You can add a few pieces of bark or some branches and they will be right at home.2. Driftwood. Air plants love to attach themselves to anything stationary. An artistic piece of drift wood, or part of a tree or some branches make the perfect display.3. In baskets. There are some lovely tiered baskets available in most home decor shops. Air plants make a lovely display when they are just casually growing in a basket. It makes them easy to care for too! This double tiered basket makes a great home for them!4. On Stones. It is not uncommon for air plants to find themselves attached to stone or rocks in the wild. Make use of their nature by artistically displaying it on some sliced agate, or other natural stone. It makes a work of art.5. On Moss. Attach air plants to some sphagnum moss and tie to any upright. This gives the plant the air circulation that it loves and adds height to the display.6. On upright posts. Tillandsia really does like an airy perch. Do you have uprights on a pergola, or on your patio? How about the slats on a porch railing? Tie bunches of air plants to them for a really decorative effect. This colorful version is Tillandsia “Victoria.”
7. In a pretty bowl. I love the way the starkness of this air plant compliments the bright and shiny bowl container. Any decorative bowl would do. Just use some moss inside to keep the air plant at the level that you want.8. On Wire. Place some wire around a ball of sphagnum moss and form it into any shape you like (I’d use a sphere and cover it with air plants! Just poke the air plant through the spaces of the wire and cover it for a really lovely hanging display.
9. In a terrarium. This is one of my favorite ways to display air plants. Our local farmer’s market has a stall which sells only these wonderful hanging terrarium displays with air plants in them. So pretty.
10. On wires. Since air plants do not need soil and can live in the air, attach some curled plastic coated heavy gauge wire against a colorful background and pop the tillandsia into the openings of the wire. It makes a very colorful and striking display.
11. In normal planters Air plants are normally quite small plants in the 2-4 inch size but given the right conditions and the variety, some can grow to be quite large. In a case like this, you can display them in any normal planter and place it where it will get the right growing conditions.
Have you grown air plants? How do you display ours? I’d love to see some photos of them. You can email them to me or upload them with a comment below, and I’ll include your photo in this article too.
If you would like a reminder of this post for growing air plants, just pin this image to one of your Pinterest Gardening Boards.
Admin note: This post for growing air plants first appeared on the blog in July of 2015. I have updated it with additional information, photos and a video for you to enjoy.