What are Air Plants?

Air plants or Tillandsias are unique plants with small sizes, and lack of visible roots define them. Air plants rely on an air-to-water combination to grow but are not as water-dependent as conventional plants. They are also Mother Nature’s natural hydroponic creation. They grow without soil and subsist on the nutrients and water from the air. They are called “Air Plants” because they get the most nutrients from the air around them.

Over 650 species grow throughout South America, Central America, and parts of the southern United States. Nowadays, you can purchase a wide array of easy-to-care-for air plants at nurseries and garden centers.

What Do Air Plants Look Like?

Photo credits from Better Homes & Gardens

The appearance of air plants does vary but they all share certain physical characteristics such as strap-like leaves that are triangle in shape. The plants also grow in a unique rosette pattern to make the most of rain. The foliage acts as a funnel that allows the water to flow into the plant’s middle. Interestingly, the silver foliage air plant species are far more drought tolerant than others. Air plants come in a wide array of foliage colors such as silver, green, emerald, and coral. The plant’s flowers are also funnel-shaped or tubular.

Air Plants are Epiphytes

Air plants are referred to as epiphytes which means that they depend on another plant for survival. However, they are not parasitic. Although the plants cling to the bark of trees, they never harm the plant they grow upon. Instead, they just co-exist by living on the tree or shrub’s surface.

How to Care for Air Plants?

Air plants do not have standard roots like other plants. Their root system is truly short and only used to hold on to a surface. The plant’s short roots do not absorb liquid or nutrients like standard fauna. Instead, you’ll need to lightly mist the leaves of the plant using water or water with a nutrient mixture. Typically, you’ll need to mist daily lightly, but some people opt to completely submerge the plant in water once a week to meet its needs. Remember, all air plant varieties come from areas with abundant rainfall and high humidity. Some of the drought-tolerant air plants can go up to two weeks without water.

Watering via Submersion

If you opt to submerge your plants in water, then you’ll simply fill a bowl or the sink basin with water. Place them into the water so the foliage is fully submerged. Leave the plants in the water for at least 30 minutes. Remove the plants from the water and place them upside down on a paper towel. Once dry, you can place them back in their spot in your home.

Air Plant Misting

If you opt to mist the air plants, then you’ll need to remain vigilant during the winter months when the humidity lowers. The plant might require more water, so you’ll want to lightly mist daily to meet its needs. You don’t want the air plant to start looking dry or crispy.

Nutrients for Air Plants

Every season, it’s nice to provide nutrients for your air plants. You can use a basic hydroponic nutrient source to lightly mist the air plant and encourage growth. The plant will undoubtedly thank you for the fertilizer boost by looking healthy and boasting wonderful color intensity.

Light Requirements for the Air Plant

Your air plant thrives when not in direct sun. In the wild, the air plant grows in the rain forest and is partially protected from the hot effects of the sun by the shady canopy of the trees. They like to be in a bright location but just not directly in the sun. A few species, such as T. cyanea or T. lindenii prefer shade and would rather only be exposed to the sun during the morning hours.

Keeping Your Air Plant Warm

Air plants adore warm weather. They will perish if the temperature dips below 45 degrees Fahrenheit. In their native habitat, they grow in USDA Zone 9, so you’ll need to replicate their ideal environment to ensure that they thrive. Most will thrive from 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summer months, you can leave the air plants outdoors but, in the winter, months bring them in if the forecast calls for a cold front.

Displaying Air Plants

Air plants look fantastic attached to a piece of driftwood. You can also group them together alongside orchids for a truly eye-catching display. Place the dainty plants in glass terrariums and hang them like Christmas bulbs. Remember, keeping the air plant in a glass ball or tube creates a microenvironment, and the humidity automatically increases which is ideal for the plant’s unique requirements and a definite benefit during the winter months when the interior of most homes becomes very dry.

Many people fashion air plants on a variety of surfaces to create true works of art. You can use a light fishing line to attach and mount them to surfaces that you want them to cling to. It might take a couple of months, but eventually, the plant’s roots will attach, and it will no longer need the support of the line. You can even fashion them into a wreath.

The Life Cycle of the Air Plant

Air plants will flower one time in their lives. Depending on the species, the blooms will last only a few days or may last up to a few months. They produce beautiful and brightly colored blooms in shades of red, purple, and pink.

Sadly, an air plant that blooms is an old plant and after flowering, it will die. However, don’t start grieving just yet. While the air plant is flowering, it will start to produce tiny offshoots that are referred to as ‘pups. The plant will develop two to eight pups. They are ridiculously small but will eventually become the same size as the mother plant. You can easily separate the pups from the mother plant when they are about half an inch big. Avoid removing them too early though because they rely on the nutrients from the mother plant for their future growth.

Air plants are fun and unusual plants to cultivate. The fact that they require truly little care is a perk that most people appreciate.