There are more than 650 types of air plants (Tillandsia spp.) that can grow—and thrive—without soil. This plant is almost unkillable, so it’s perfect for gardeners who tend to have a “black thumb.”
Air plants grow without dirt and come in all sizes and colors. Although air plants used to be a rare greenery, these hardy plants have become popular in the past couple years, snd you can find a broad selection at Swan Lake Nurseryland.
About Air Plants
Named for the Swedish born botanist Dr Elias Tillandz, the epiphytic Tillandsia genus come in many sizes, shapes and forms. In the wild they can be found in a wide range of habitats ranging from arid deserts and mountainous areas to warm and humid forests.
As an epiphyte, air plants take in water and nutrients via their hair like trichomes on the leaves. Without the need for a conventional root system, Tillandsia produce a small root system to anchor themselves onto trees, rocks etc. They are native to the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America.
There are several types of air plants: Those with silver foliage tend to be the most drought-tolerant; greener plants dry out faster. Another interesting adaptation that Tillandsia have made growing in dry, arid habitats is their specialised photosynthesis. Most plants will breathe throughout the day and night, but in dry conditions breathing during the heat of the day not only releases unwanted gasses but also moisture. As these arid growing Tillandsia need to conserve their moisture they use a specialised method known as Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) respiration, keeping their stomas closed in the daytime, breathing through the night when transpiration is less of a concern thanks to the lower temperatures.
Many air plants grow with strap-shape or slender triangle-shape leaves, and most have attractive tubular or funnel-shape flowers. Tillandsias flower annually with their blooming cycle varying significantly between species.
Air Plant Care
The key to air plant survival is constant air circulation. Water your plants about once a week—some varieties can go two weeks without being watered. Keep an eye on them to determine what exactly your plant needs. To water, place them in the sink and lightly rinse each plant. Leave the plant in the sink overnight to drain; put them back in their designated place in the morning.
If one of your plants looks severely dried out, pull off the bottom dried parts and place the plant in a bowl of water for several hours. In the winter, if your home’s heater is on, your air plants may look a little dry. Simply mist them with water (concentrating on the base of the plant) every few days to keep them looking fresh.
Although they love warm weather, most air plants need protection from full sun. If it’s a type that grows naturally wild on trees, keep it in moist, partial shade. If it is a ground type, grow it indoors in bright, filtered light or outdoors in partial or dappled shade.
Don’t let an air plant sit somewhere colder than 45 degrees; it will die at those temperatures.
You’ll know that an air plant is happy when it sends up flowers. Once the flower dries out, all you need to do is snip it off.
Styling Air Plants
Air plants look great alone as architectural elements or in an air plant terrarium. Place varieties such as Tillandsia aeranthos ‘Amethyst’, also called the rosy air plant, in a pot or against a container that complements or contrasts its pink flower spike.
Play off the spikiness of the foliage by grouping three Tillandsia ionantha and add a tiny toucan, parasol, or other tropical touch.
Air plants naturally suited to growing in trees can be lashed against a protected wooden post with translucent fishing monofilament and a bit of sphagnum moss to hold moisture. Tillandsia species also make fine companions on a branch with orchids because they like essentially the same conditions. Hanging air plants are a favored design element.