Not Just Air: All About Air Plants
By far one of the most unique types of plants, air plants are one of nature’s many curiosities. In this journal, we’ll explore what they are, how best to take care of them, ways to display them, and our top three favorites.
A Brief Overview
Air plants, also known by their Latin name, Tillandsia, are native to the mountains, deserts, and forests of South and Central America, and some types can even be found in the southern United States. Air plants are epiphytic, which basically means they grow on and around trees, but they’re not parasitic. Instead, they take in nutrients via their leaves from the air and occasional rainfall. Their leaves are layered with tiny silver colored hair-like parts called trichomes, which allow them to absorb water readily. Air plants have very minimal roots, which don’t take in nutrients, surprisingly; they’re instead used to anchor the plant to a surface. When placing them indoors, it’s not uncommon to cut the roots off, giving a more clean look.
Unlike many other tropical houseplants, air plants have a set life cycle. Years into maturity, the air plant will produce a bloom—most of which consist of really intense violets, pinks, reds, and oranges. Once they’ve bloomed, the mother air plant will slowly begin to produce offshoots usually referred to as “pups”. These pups, once about one-third the size of the mother plant, can be gently removed and will become new, viable air plants. After this stage, the mother plant will slowly begin to die, leaving a good number of baby air plants behind, and the cycle starts over again.
While some may look similar to succulents, cacti, and other light-craving plants, you can rest assured that air plants don’t need (or even really enjoy) that kind of intense, direct sun. In their natural environment, air plants grow around the shaded canopies of trees, so they prefer bright indirect light [learn more about lighting here] when placed indoors.
Contrary to popular belief, air plants do need water to survive and can’t thrive on air alone.
Submerge your air plant in water for roughly one hour once per week. When it has had its weekly bath, gently shake the air plant out, removing excess water that might be trapped in-between its leaves. Set your air plant upside down for a couple of hours, allowing any other water to drain from the plant before placing it in its regular position. Doing this greatly decreases the chance of your air plant developing rot. Following these care tips will help your air plant live a longer, happier life.
Ways to Display
One of the most interesting things about air plants is that they don’t need soil (read: a container) to survive, and because of this, they can be placed practically anywhere. You can place them along pieces of wood and rock to create a natural look, put them in clear glass with pea gravel to prop them up, or just display them as is on a countertop or desk. The possibilities are endless.
T. tectorum: this little one looks just like a fuzzy snowball. Its silvery trichomes are exaggerated, allowing it to withstand intense heat and droughts.
T. xerogrpahica: also known as the queen of the air plants, these can get pretty massive. They take on a rosette shape and have long, winding leaves that are a silvery green color.
T. streptophylla: bulbous with ringlet-like leaves, this air plant curls tighter the longer it goes without water.
Hopefully with this post, you’ve come to understand air plants a little bit more. They’re fantastic plants that everyone should try out. If you have any other questions about them, feel free to ask down below!
Written by: Egan Thorne
Photos by: Emily Kellett