Air Plant

Tillandsia or as they are commonly called air plants are unique plants that have an exceedingly attractive and exotic appeal. Tillandsia is a genus of around 650 species of evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae, native to the forests, mountains and deserts of northern Mexico and south-eastern United States, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean to mid Argentina. Their leaves, more or less silvery in color, are covered with specialized cells (trichomes) capable of rapidly absorbing water that gathers on them. While they are called "air plants" as they do not require soil and take their nutrients from the air, they still need water, nutrients, and light to survive.



Air Plants are technically epiphytes, meaning that they grow in nature on another tree, host, or object. However, they do not steal nutrients from their host, only using it as a home to grow on. Air plants use tiny vessels located throughout their leaves called trichomes to capture nutrients and moisture from the air. Because they do not require soil (and most Tillandsia should NOT be planted in soil), it allows them to thrive in a wide range of settings, vessels and spaces. This flexibility of growth allows air plants to be used in a variety of scenarios which has lead to increased popularity of Tillandsia as decorations for homes and offices.


Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

2 - 12 inches


Width-Circumference (Avg)

1 - 4 inches


Approximate pH

5.5 - 6.0


Growth Nutrition of Air Plant


Air plants are always craving essential minerals like Potassium, Nitrogen, and Phosphorous - much like other plants. Regular fertilizers have these minerals, just not in the ideal ratio for air plants.


Fertilizer for air plants needs to be different than regular fertilizer because air plants cannot rely on soil to break down nitrogen.


There are Ammoniacal and Nitrate Nitrogens that can be consumed immediately by air plants. They do not need soil to break down their properties. Special fertilizers designed for Tillandsia have just the right amount of minerals that are ideal for air plants.


Types of Air Plant


Air plant flowers come in many shapes and colors from coral, to pinks and purples. Air plants are divided into two categories: mesic and xeric.

  • Mesic air plants come from moderately humid regions such as South American rainforests. They thrive in a canopy of trees and prefer more filtered light than xeric air plants. The leaves are a deep green, smooth, and slightly cupped.

  • Xeric air plants are from desert-like climates and often grow on rocks. Their wide leaves are gray and fuzzy which allow a larger surface area to absorb water and light.


Tillandsia Aeranthos: Native to Latin American countries Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, this type comes with gorgeous silver-blue scaly leaves and dark blue flower seeping out of its deep pink bracts. Vibrant and appealing, it can grow up to 6 inches in height and 9 inches in width. This Drunken Gnome below is one variety of Tillandsia Aeranthos.


Tillandsia Andreana: The thin and delicate leaves of Tillandsia, shoot out from the center, capitulating the eyes because of the overall shape they form. It is native to Columbia, and being a caulescent plant, it doesn’t grow on stems.


Tillandsia Xerographica: Another Latin American native, this type particularly thrives in the arid areas of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. It’s an attractive plant great for indoor gardening for its unique looks. From the silver-gray leaves that clung like a spider on the base then, slowly curling into tapered tips to its spiral rosette flower, this makes an attractive centerpiece in terrarium containers.


Tillandsia Cyanea: A Native in Ecuador’s rainforest, this bromeliad air plant is popularly known as Pink Quill plant. Characterized by thinly re curved leaves in stemless rosettes, paddle-shaped spikes, and deep blue (almost violet) flowers. Take a good look at this one.


Tillandsia Caput-Medusae: The unruly Tillandsia caput-medusae is commonly referred to as the head of Medusa. Tillandsia caput-medusae produce red or blue flowers and have wavy leaves that resemble medusa’s snake tendrils. Their foliage is fuzzy and silver-green with a purple hue that originates at the base. The Tillandsia caput-medusae grows on tree branches in Central America and Mexico. As a xeric air plant, it does better in dry conditions and can tolerate more sun and less water than its mesic counterparts.


Tillandsia Ionantha: One of the most popular air plants, it includes quite a lot of varieties and hybrids. Though often ensconced on driftwood, some are cut to thrive in a miniature hanging terrarium. Characterized mostly with silvery-green leaves that tend to go deeper in color as it extends turning into red and pink in color as it prepares to bloom. Flowers can either be red, blue, purple or white. This Ionantha Fuego below is a good choice for beginner indoor gardening.


Tillandsia Purpurea: Deliciously aromatic, this air plant type is perfect for living rooms as well as bedrooms. Its attractive reddish purple flower emits an appealing cinnamon-like scent which relaxes the mind. Even the stiff leaves which come in purple-tinted mauve hue adds more appeal to this air plant type.


Tillandsia fuchsii var. Garcilis: This air plant was originally referred to as Tillandsia argentea. Extremely thin gray-green leaves coming out of pincushion like bulbous base makes it easy to identify. Tillandsia fuchsii var. garcilis is a small, delicate plant but can withstand brighter lights than many other air plants. It symmetrically grows up to only about five to six inches and occupies about one to two inches in width. Due to its extremely thin blade like leaves, misting is not the best option to water the plant. Instead give the plant a bath by placing fuchsii in the water bowl at least for an hour, every week.


Tillandsia funkiana: These funky, narrow air plants bend, wind and curl into odd shapes, sometimes even spiraling around themselves. This is a tiny plant, growing only about two inches long. Tillandsia funkiana is a great choice for a terrarium as it’s slender and can fit in almost any container. As with so many air plants, the leaves will turn red, as it gets ready to flower. It blooms with bright orange red flowers.


Tillandsia gardneri: It looks are similar to a small yucca, having pale grayish leaves that taper to a point. It’s comparatively a bigger size air plant that can grow up to 9 to 12 inches in height. It grows well in moderate light with good air circulation and humidity levels. So it’s a good choice if you can’t provide the bright light and warm temperatures most air plants prefer. It’s very forgiving as it does not need much watering, but it still needs plenty of moisture which enters it through the scale like leaves.


Tillandsia lonatha ‘Fuego’: These are tiny little air plants, but are great for show-off because they can flush bright red or orange tones on receiving direct sunlight., ‘Fuego’ is a cultivar bred so it keeps on blushing, long after blooming. The leaves retain their bright color for months. However, it’s a very small air plant growing to only about one inch. It could be a starting point for your air plant collection as they fill out quite quickly and can be easily cared for provided they are misted regularly.


Tillandsia maxima: If you are looking for an air plant that makes a real impact, then Tillandsia maxima are worth a look. Also known as ‘Huamelula‘, it is the loveliest variety from ionantha forms with coral-red leaves and purple flowers. This air plant can handle comparatively stronger sun than most other air plants and produces multiple flowers simultaneously. It is considered relatively large for an air plant, as it grows up to five to six inches in height with a spread of three to four inches.


Tillandsia kolbii: Tillandsia kolbii looks like a bunch of celery having a slight curvature to the leaves. It has been created by crossing T. ionantha with T. Scaposa. It is a small plant and grows up to only two to three inches, but it is good enough to make a statement with a soft, gray fuzz on its leaves, especially when they blush pink before blooming. It prefers less light and enjoys a humid environment.

Tillandsia brachycaulos: The vibrant green leaves of Tillandsia brachycaulos grows outward from a central growing point and the plant turns red as it gets ready to bloom. But don’t get fooled as at times you may find plants with leaves that have been dyed red, to give the appearance of flowering. It’s a fairly small plant, growing to about three inches only with a four-inch spread. It requires good light, but avoid the full sun in the summer afternoon. It’s best to keep the plant very close to a window indoors in winter and preferably outside in mild shade in the summer.


Tillandsia bulbosa: This air plant gets its name from its bulbous roots, but it is the contorted, tendril like green narrow leaves that make it even more interesting. These tendrils like leaves are often described as looking like tentacles and the plants do give a sea monster-like appearance. The leaves change it’s color to purple or bright red, just before it is ready to bloom purple flowers. It prefers hot to warm temperature and humidity and can be easily taken care of in such environments. One interesting fact about Tillandsia bulbosa is that it forms a symbiotic relationship with ants if grown outdoors. The somewhat hollow bulbs are used by the ants to make their home inside and the plant, in turn, feeds off the waste that is left behind by the ants.


Tillandsia cacticola: This plant is hard to find as it does not produce many offsets. However. it is greatly sought after for its lovely lavender flower. The species gets its name from its habit of growing on cacti. It has a silvery or whitish-green rosette of leaves that grows out to almost about 10 cm, out of which juts a long stem that holds the white flower with purple tip petals at about eight to nine inches above the plant.


Tillandsia capitata ‘Peach’: The thick leaves of Tillandsia capitata ‘ are surprisingly soft to the touch. They form a fountain like an appearance as the soft foliage grows from the center. The peach coloring makes a striking contrast to the purple flower. The largest specimens of this plant grow out to be eight inches tall, although two- to three-inch plants are common. They have strong but very fine hair like roots that grow to anchor the plant to its mount. They are perfect for large terrariums or as a hanging air plant.


Tillandsia circinata: The thick whitish-green leaves give Tillandsia circinata a very different appearance, looking almost like a bulb of fennel. The leaves grow linear shape and have grey fuzz called trichomes. The flower blooms to either yellow or purple and can grow to six to eight inches in length, although they are only about one inch across at their base.


Tillandsia loliacea: If miniature air plants attract, you will fall in love with Tillandsia. The plant itself does not grow much larger than an inch and a half in height but when it comes to its flowers, the flower stalk stretches up another two to three inches to display it’s equally tiny yellow flowers. These tiny air plants look charming perched on wood as well as clustered in terrariums, where they can soak up the excess moisture.


Tillandsia didisticha: It’s quite a large plant for a Tillandsia, that grows upwards to up to one-foot height, at maturity. The base of the plant forms slender, gray-green, pointed leaves. Out of which comes the stiff flower stalk with pinkish bracts and small white flowers. It thrives well in indirect light. Spray r dunk it at least twice a week for good health.


Tillandsia dyeriana: It’s a very attractive, striking air plant with its bright orange inflorescence. The flowers of this plant are white, but they are dominated by the exuberance of its bracts. Unlike other air plants, this one prefers to grow in pots, where it can have adequate moisture. Remember to provide this species with lots of humidity. If grown in pots, it can get quite big (up to 12 to 18 inches in height).


Tillandsia fasciculata: This air plant has been given several common names, including quill-leaf air plants, giant air plant cardinal air plants, and wild pineapple as it is one of the most commonly grown air plants with hundreds of variations and hybrids. It gives red and green inflorescence that stays attractive for weeks. Compared to other Tillandsia, this species grows to be quite large and can be as tall as three feet.


Tillandsia flabellata: Instead of having a rosette of slender leaves like many other air plants, flabellata grows tall to be vase-shaped, with an array of flowers sometimes described as a candelabra. This is a big plant, growing up to 10 to 12 inches tall, which blooms multiple red flower spikes.


Tillandsia Stricta: The Tillandsia stricta is an incredibly popular plant that is native to several environments. You’ll find it in sand dunes and treetops across the Caribbean and Latin America. As a result, the Tillandsia stricta can vary quite a bit in appearance and hardiness. Some types have softer, lighter leaves, while others are harder to the touch. Some are almost pink, like the ‘cotton candy,’ while others are close to black, like the ‘stricta midnight.’ Stricta flowers only last one day! However, the colorful leaves that develop before the bloom last about three months total. The stricta thrives in bright filtered light and produces plenty of pups that clump easily.


Tillandsia seleriana: This sculptural beauty is a must-have plant for home decor. The bulbous base looks like various small bulbs fused together, while the upright growing leaves turn to a beautiful shade of red before blooming.


Tillandsia abdita: The search for a most colorful variety of air plants ends right here! The symmetrical rosette of leaves with red and green hues and purple blooms is enough to enhance the appeal of any space!


Tillandsia recurvata: This species is often called as ball moss. It gives a nest shape appearance, with a mass of slender, arching gray-green leaves and a tall lavender flower spike. The leaves can grow up to two to six inches in length. This plant has the very peculiar habit of allowing its seeds to germinate while they are still in the seed pod. Though it does not produce spectacular color blooms like it’s cousins this hardy air plant produces lavender colored tiny flowers.


Tillandsia usneoides: Tillandsia usneoides, or Spanish moss, differs from other air plants in that the leaves hang rather than sprout up. In its natural environment, spanish moss can be found draped over tree branches and emitting a fragrant scent.


Tillandsia Houston ‘Cotton Candy’: The Tillandsia cotton candy is a hybrid between a Tillandsia stricta and a Tillandsia recurvifolia. Its silvery-soft leaves grow in a rosette shape and take on a cotton candy pink hue before bloom. The cotton candy is known for its beautiful pink flower and soft structure compared with the Tillandsia Houston. The Tillandsia cotton candy grows quickly and will produce a clump of offsets relatively quickly. It prefers plenty of bright indirect light and either frequent misting (2-3 times per week) or infrequent soaking (2-3 times a month).


Tillandsia Punctulata: Tillandsia punctulata is a medium-sized air plant with curved leaves that create a rosette shape. It is commonly referred to as a Mexican black torch because the base of its green and deep purple leaves can appear almost black. It produces upright spikes of funnel-shaped flowers. The showy flowers tend to have several sepals and petals and can be a vibrant red. Tillandsia punctulata can grow to be 1.5 feet tall, making them the largest variety on this list. They enjoy bright, light, and a healthy amount of moisture, even though they are drought tolerant.


Tillandsia Tectorum: Its leaves look like they just had a fresh dab of snowfall. Having fuzzy trichomes, this air plant looks amazing on driftwood. Keep it near a sunlight source, and it will continue to grow for long!


Tillandsia ixioides x T. recurvifolia ‘Whitestar’: This type of air plant has two species, Ixioides and recurvifolia. It has silver leaves in star shape and produces flowers in pink and spikes in bright yellow. Just like any other air plant, this one too is very easy to grow as it does not need so much water and enjoys being under the sun. This one is considered to be rare as it is not easy to find both online and in a physical store.


Planting Air Plant

  • No potting soil is needed.

  • The air plant can be placed in hanging glass globes or shells. Any small shallow container will work, or you can attach the plant to a wall hanging.

  • Make sure the container you choose does not retain water, as air plants may rot if they aren’t allowed to dry off.

  • Secure the plant with fishing line or wire if necessary.

  • Plants should be handled as little as possible to avoid damage to the leaves.

  • Air plants grow best in a bright window, but not in direct sunlight. Supplemental lighting can be beneficial; use an full-spectrum LED or fluorescent bulb.

  • Air plants need good air circulation.

  • Good spots for air plants are a window near the sink in the kitchen or a bathroom window. The humidity from washing dishes or taking a shower will keep the plants happy!


Air Plant Care


There are a few general rules when it comes to care that can be followed for any air plant.


Light


Since air plants are commonly found growing on trees and other large plants below the forest canopy, they are accustomed to receiving bright to medium indirect light. Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight which can easily burn their delicate leaves.


Water


Air plants require regular watering in order to thrive indoors. However, since these plants grow without soil, watering air plants looks a little bit different than watering your other houseplants. Most air plants can be successfully watered using a soaking method, where the plant is left to soak in a bowl of distilled water for 20 to 40 minutes every 1 to 2 weeks. However, some air plants prefer regular misting, or a quick dunk versus a longer soak. Researching the specific type of air plant that you have will help to determine which watering method is best.


Temperature and Humidity


One of the most important parts of caring for air plants properly indoors is ensuring that they receive enough moisture and humidity. Air plants prefer warm, humid conditions to ensure that they do not dry out. Regular household temperatures are fine for air plants, just ensure that they are not exposed to any cold drafts or temperatures in the winter.


When it comes to humidity, avoid placing your air plants near heating/cooling vents in your home, or in rooms with particularly dry conditions. Your plant will thrive with a humidifier placed nearby, or you can grow them in notoriously humid rooms in your home such as the bathroom, laundry room, or kitchen.


Propagating Air Plants


Since the term “air plant” covers a wide variety of plants, there are a few ways that air plants are commonly propagated. Most of the time, epiphytic plants propagate most readily through division of pups from the "mother plant," however some species, such as the tropical cacti, can also be propagated by stem cuttings. Ensure that you research the best way to propagate the specific type of air plant that you have before attempting either of the following two methods.


How to Propagate Air Plants by Division

  1. Air plants that are healthy and established will begin to grow pups, or offshoots, over time. These can be separated and established as independent plants.

  2. Grab the base of the plants and gently wiggle the pup from the mother plant to separate them. If they are not easy to pull apart, you can use a sharp knife or pair of scissors to separate them.

  3. Once separated, begin caring for your new baby plant like you would for the mother plant - it’s as easy as that!


How to Propagate Air Plants by Stem Cuttings

  1. Using a pair of sharp scissors or pruning shears, take stem cuttings that are around 4 to 5 inches long.

  2. Set the cuttings aside in a cool, dry location for at least 24 hours to allow the cut edge to callous over.

  3. Fill a small glass or vase with distilled or filtered water and place the bottom of the cutting in the water.

  4. Set the cuttings in a location that receives bright, indirect light and refresh the water once a week. After a few weeks you should begin to notice new roots forming below the water!


Pests and Plant Diseases


Air plants are vulnerable to fungal diseases if they are overwatered. They are also prone to attack by mealybugs and scale insects, both of which can be treated with a pesticide marked as being safe for Tillandsias.


Common Problems With Air Plants


The most common problems encountered when growing air plants indoors are usually related to improper watering or humidity conditions. Identifying the issue early is key to saving your plant before it’s too late!


Browning Tips


If your air plant’s leaves have brown, crispy tips, this is an indication that your plant is not receiving enough moisture. As a first step, try increasing the humidity around the plant before you increase your watering schedule. This can be done by placing a small humidifier nearby, or moving your plant to a more humid room in your home. If the problem persists on any new growth after you make this change, try increasing the frequency of your watering slightly to prevent your plant from drying out too much.


Mushy Stems


On the other hand; brown, mushy stems are an indication that your air plant has been overwatered. Unfortunately, it is usually hard to save an air plant that has been overwatered unless you catch it early enough. Remove the mushy stems from the plant and skip at least one watering to help dry the plant out a bit. Once you resume watering, cut back slightly from your previous watering schedule.


Benefits of Air Plant


Good for your Health


Unlike any other houseplants, air plants have small hairs on their leaves called Trichomes. And these Trichomes are used to absorb water and as well as capture harmful chemicals and toxins from the air like formaldehyde and benzene. Plus, they also photosynthesize at night as most plants do. In other words, they emit fresh oxygen, which allows you to breathe clean air even when you are sound asleep.

Aside from that, studies show that being surrounded by indoor plants, especially air plants will allow you to create the peaceful environment you need. Meaning, they will help alleviate stress, lower blood pressure, and improve focus and productivity at home or work by 10 to 15%.


They are pet friendly


We all know that not all houseplants are good around our furry friends. The good news is, Tillandsias are non-toxic to pets, so if you have a cat that’s a bit fond of nibbling on your air plants, there’s no need to worry as they should be just fine.


An excellent office desk plant


As you might already know, containers or pots are not always necessary as air plants really do not need any soil in growing them! In other words, having them in your office is a lot less messy compared to soil-dependent plants. Plus, they can thrive under filtered light and won't take much space as they are available in convenient sizes.


Perfect for Decorations


Like most succulents, air plants also consist of a variety of unique shapes, textures, and colors. This allows designers and gardeners to make any living space look more beautiful and sophisticated. And since you don't need soil to grow air plants, they can adjust into any space and be placed in just any ravishing containers, or even move them around from one room to another without any hassle.


In addition to that, they have the ability to grow on other surfaces like shells or driftwoods, giving you a chance to be creative with them.


Resilient


Air plants are disease and pests-resistant. They will also not wither and die off easily, as long as you provide them the right amount of light and water they need, you can rely on them to look at their best at all times.


Easy to Propagate

Seeds can be used to propagate air plants, but it’s a tedious and long process. That’s why the most common method of propagation is by offsets, also known as pups. These offsets can be used to propagate new air plants. Simply separate them from the parent plant and remount them on growing board or any other surface.


Cleaner Surrounding


If dealing with the soil is not something you want to get into because of the mess it creates air plants are the perfect substitute. They are epiphytes, which means they can grow without soil as long as you provide a support structure for them to grow on.


Great for Urban Setting


Urban dwellers always look forward to saving space in homes and modern alternatives. One of the benefits of air plants is they offer an excellent choice for such settings. Plus, you can grow them without soil, so having a container is not always necessary, and they’re in trend.


Uses

  • Ornamental uses (pottery): T. usneoides fibres were found in the pottery-making societies of North America. Tillandsias are also depicted on pre-Incan Mochica pottery of northern Peru.

  • Ornamental uses (garden): T. usneoides is used as a decorative arrangement in buildings, as ornamental plants in vertical type support, as air purification indoors, as well as green plant curtain.

  • Medicinal uses: Tillandsia has been used in traditional medicine for leucorrhea, rheumatism, ulcers, and haemorrhoid treatments. Also, as an anti-diabetic remedy, emetic, analgesic, purgative, contraceptive, antispasmodic and diuretic. And the list goes on!

  • Symbolic uses: Tillandsia was probably known as ‘chicōm-ācatl’ in pre-Columbian cultures.

  • In Peru, Tillandsias had magical connotations and some species are used in rituals as adornment, especially: T. usneoides, T. walterivar, T. cauligera and T. walteri.

  • In Mexico, T. usneoides had an essential use in Azteca society, including temple decoration. During the post-Colombian time, it’s been used for decorating the nativity scenes in Chiapas.

  • Household uses: In Peru, T. usneoides was used to wrap fruit and fragile objects, as well as to fill pillows and mattresses.

  • Farming uses: In the early 20th century in Louisiana, Florida USA, T. usneoides was used in the winter by farmers when the pastures were scarce. T. recurvata was used with the same purpose in Brazil.

Nowadays, air plants are mainly used as ornamental and as a medicinal remedy in Latin America. But also as part of the rituals in some communities.

Finally, the Tillandsia genus has economic importance in emerging markets, not only as a decorative houseplant but as well as an ingredient in cosmetics products.


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