Tillandsias have undoubtedly fascinated me ever since I first saw them. These “air plants” from the subtropical and tropical New World are simultaneously adorable and bizarre. With over 550 species and counting, deciding on which air plant to grow can be a daunting task. Luckily, air plants are easy to grow, and if you read this article and follow the instructions, you should not have that many problems growing your first air plant, even if it’s your first time.
Selecting Your First Air Plant
There is a good chance that you probably ordered your air plants from the internet which means they will have been in the dark for at least a couple of days, so it is vital that they ease into their new surroundings properly. This is the only challenging stage of air plant care. Slowly allowing air plants to acclimatise to the abrupt temperature change (from box to air conditioning or heat) can be made earlier with these quick tips.
Acclimatising Your New Air Plants
When you initially take them out of their box, do not be tempted to set them directly in front of an air conditioner, heater or fan and leave them
To lower the plant’s stress, give them a bath for 20 to 30 minutes. Just soak them in a warm bowl of water. (Even if they came from your local market, be sure to soak them first).
Next, you should lay them out drying completely
If you are planning on displaying them in maybe a glass terrarium, a pretty wall hanging display or any kind of enclosed container (or in a hole to stand them up), it is essential that you allow them first drying out completely
Do not plant your air plants in soil, ever, as that would lead to rotting
And, do not let them stay wet for long periods to avoid spoiling
Yes, you may cut the unsightly roots off and peel off the brown leaves. An air plant gathers nutrients through its leaves (or body) and has no use for soil. Roots are nature’s way of attaching air plants to their rock or tree host.
Understanding Air Plants
These are the immediate steps to take upon the arrival of your new plants. There is more to know to provide healthy lives for your air plants and their pups (yes pups), like air, light and fertiliser.
But don’t fret. Once you get the idea that these are not earthbound, root dependent potted plants, you view them with a whole other understanding. And, you will see how natural, independent and care free these tree-dwelling, rock hanging beauties can be.
Air Plants as a Display
In the wild, air plants, such as Tillandsia, grow without soil and attach themselves to trees, rocks and other supports. Their dull-grey/greenish-blue foliage has no distinct leaves or stems and is covered in tiny pores that allow them to absorb moisture and nutrients from the air. The various species of air plant, rosettes or stringy, lend themselves to being displayed in different ways, but they are at their most natural as hanging plants. However, air plants can be housed in almost anything, such as empty seashells.
Air Plant Maintenance
Place air plants in a spot with proper ventilation in bright, but not direct, light. They will need a minimum temperature of 12 C and relatively high humidity. Water by plunging into tepid water (preferably rainwater or soft water) two to three times a week (unless in high humidity, in which case allow drying between watering). A specialist orchid fertiliser can be added monthly to the water (leave the air plant in the water for a few hours when feeding). Rosette-forming plants should be allowed drying facing downwards so that water does not pool in the leaves. Prune only to remove dead leaves and flowers.
The Air Plant Family
This plant is named for its habit of growing among cactus and has a tall, projectile inflorescence (a group or cluster of blooms arranged on a stem) with lavender flowers. It is actually quite a rare species, as it only produces one or two “pups” or offshoots, once the flower has died away. It is more at home in bright and warm areas. A problem to look out for is if the edges of the leaves begin to curl upwards more than usual. This is a sign that it requires fully submerging in water for up to 12 hours, to restore its former glory.
This species blooms within the spotted, thorned, stiff leaves of a billbergia, another bromeliad family member. It is also known as a giant air plant and is native to Central America and Mexico. In the wild, they grow in vast quantities on tree trunks, especially in rain forests. It can have as many as 50 leaves, which form a rosette shape, and is an epiphytic organism, which means it grows on the surface of other host plants.
Originating in South America, specifically in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, Aeranthos is an epiphytic air plant that grows mostly on trees. They can grow both as a single plant or groups of between two to 12 plants. Aeranthos is characterised by long grey leaves which are incredibly pointy. They produce a beautiful deep blue three petal flower and can form many pups. This plant tends to thrive in an area with low humidity and can survive in colder temperatures and is one of the most natural air plants to cultivate although it is relatively slow growing.
Originating in Argentina, Bergeri is an epiphytic air plant that grows on rocks near the ground. Bergeri produces pups or offshoots throughout the year and is the fastest growing air plant available. It rarely flowers but can produce attractive blue blooms.
Share Your Story
Have you tried growing air plants before? Do you have any tips for their care and maintenance? Please leave a comment or question below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.