Air Plants 101

“These are fake, right?”

One of the plants we get asked about frequently is the Air Plant. Perhaps the name is a bit of a misleader, as Air Plants do require more than just air to survive. The fact that they can sit out on a shelf or countertop, without soil, and thrive certainly doesn’t help with the confusion. Add a few misleading care tips floating around the internet, and even those who recognize these plants often have lots of questions.

Tillandsia, commonly referred to as Air Plants, are members of the Bromeliaceae family. However, while colourful Bromeliads have been easily accessible at plant shops and garden centres for awhile now, Tillandsia have only recently become widely available.

Native to the mountains, forests, and deserts, of South and Central America, there are more than 650 species of Tillandsia, most of which are epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants but are not parasitic). During trips to Peru in 2018 and Mexico last fall I was able to see Tillandsia growing wild in the crooks and branches of trees , a cool experience having cared for a handful of Air Plants at home over the past few years.

After the initial uncertainty about these plants subsides, many people aren’t sure what to do with their Tillandsia once they get it home. Regardless of the type of houseplant you have, a great way to begin caring for a plant is to learn what its natural habitat is like, and then evaluate your space to adjust accordingly. As many common Tillandsia varieties grow in lush tropical forests, they require humidity and bright indirect light. In nature, these plants experience regular moisture followed by warm temperatures and sunlight that allow the plant to completely dry, often in the same day.

Have a look around your space. How much light does the plant receive? What’s the temperature and how does it vary from season to season? Is it very dry where you live? We’ve found that the climate in Kamloops is too dry to rely on misting alone to deliver the needed moisture, contrary to what the internet may say. As a general starting place, soak your Tillandsia in a bowl of room temperature water every other week for five to ten minutes. Once watered, it’s very important to let your air plant dry completely, as they are susceptible to rot. I set mine out on a clean tea towel on the kitchen counter and invert them to allow any water to drain away from the plant. From here, adjust accordingly for the needs of your plant. You can mist your plant once a week if you find it is drying out too quickly – the tips of the leaves will be crispy - or cut back on how regularly you soak your plant during winter when the light levels decline.

A contributing factor to the popularity of these cute little plants is that they grow well in unique settings. Without the need for a pot or soil, Tillandsia have the ability to be used in non-traditional ways, including suspended installations and mounted wall art. When it comes to displaying your air plants, some air circulation is really your only limit. I’ve opted to simply set my Tillandsia out in glass terrariums and style them among my treasures on some open shelving at home. Boring, I know.

It’s a great time to be a plant fanatic, with more and more varieties being sustainably produced, including the air plant, and access to these plants open to the general public like never before. Add to that a breadth of local knowledge and help available at our neighbourhood nurseries and I really do believe that anyone who wants to can own and care for plants. Small apartment? Pet considerations? Need something low maintenance? Tillandsia check all these boxes. There’s a houseplant for you and your unique space and we are always here to help you find it!

Further Reading:

Hemleva - Air Plant Dating Profiles

House Plant Journal - BASICS: Air Plant Care 101

Pistils Nursery - Air Plant Care: How To Care For Air Plants, Aeriums And Tillandsia Mounts



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