The air plant is a stunning houseplant that you have probably seen all over social media. The plant is able to be mounted or grown in some amazing places, as they aren’t planted in soil or water.
These peculiar little houseplants come in all sorts of shapes and sizes with a huge variety. In this article we’ll delve into this houseplant’s care and environmental requirements, so you too can witness its beautiful blooms.
Let’s take a look at the key characteristics of an air plant.
This low-maintenance houseplant isn’t like your usual houseplant because this one doesn’t grow in soil or water. It grows in the air, hence its name “air” plant. Native to America, ranging from the southern United States to Argentina, the air plant prospers in tropical regions.
The air plant absorbs all of the nutrients it needs from water, sunshine, and air through its leaves. They are covered in what we call trichomes. These are tiny hairs that cover the leaf’s surface and absorb all the moisture and nutrients needed.
Tillandsia is the air plant’s botanical name, however, it is also known by many other different names depending on its variation. We’ll discuss a few of the popular types later on.
Did you know that the air plant is an epiphyte? This means that in its native environment it clings to other trees, bushes or even rocks. The roots are used to anchor the plant to its host.
Types of Air Plants
There is an overwhelming number of varieties with nearly 600 different types of air plants. For this reason, there are two main categories of Tillandsia; mesic and xeric Tillandsia.
Mesic Tillandsia is native to more humid regions and they prefer more indirect sunlight than a xeric. Their leaves are a deeper green color and it has fewer trichomes making the leaves smoother.
A xeric Tillandsia is found in drier areas and its leaves are wider in order to absorb more water and sunlight. The leaves are also larger because it has more trichomes than a mesic. Due to the high concentration of trichomes, its leaves have a fuzzy appearance.
Take a look at the list below with 10 popular air plant variations:
- Tillandsia ionantha; This lush green houseplant starts its life with a green-silvery color and as it matures it begins to change into a deeper green color. This plant can reach heights between 2 to 6 inches (5 – 15.2cm), and it blooms some amazing red and pink flowers.
- Tillandsia recurvata; It is also called small ball moss and grows up to 6 to 12 inches (15.2 – 30.5cm) tall. It produces thin, silver-green leaves that look like a bird’s nest.
- Tillandsia funckiana; The leaves are light green and have what can be described as white snow-like dust on them. This houseplant grows about 8 inches (20.3cm) in length and flowers red tubular blossoms.
- Tillandsia caput; This variation is also called the head of medusa due to its twisting leaves that grow up to 10 inches (25.4cm) long. Its flowers are a striking violet color.
- Tillandsia xerographica; This plant’s leaves are a silvery-green color and curve at the end, and it can reach heights of around 3 feet (91.4cm). The flowers produced are either red, purple or yellow.
- Tillandsia capitata peach; When the plant is first growing, it’ll have silvery-green leaves which eventually transform into a peachy pink as it matures. It’ll shoot up beautiful purple flowers.
- Tillandsia brachycaulos; This type of air plant has flat, green leaves that look similar to the leaves on top of a pineapple. The plant can grow up to 8 to 10 inches (20.3 – 25.4cm) tall, and it blooms red and purple flowers.
- Tillandsia aeranthos; The foliage is hard, stiff, and silvery-green. If you place these in bright light, it’ll have a slight purple hue. The plant can reach heights of anywhere between 6 to 8 inches (15.2 – 20.3cm). The flowers have a stunning ring of blue-purple petals.
- Tillandsia paucifolia; These plants grow around 4 inches (10cm) wide and 6 inches (15.2cm) tall, and sprout pink and purple blooms. Each plant usually has around 5 or 10 silvery leaves.
- Tillandsia usneoides; It is also known as Spanish moss, and these wiry, long leaves grow up to a whopping 20 feet (6.096m). It produces bright yellow flowers.
Fun Fact: These houseplants are perfect for your bedroom as they’re great air purifiers and they photosynthesize at night, so you’ll receive plenty of fresh oxygen while you sleep.
How Big Do They Get?
Air plants are usually tiny and depending on the variation they only grow between 2 to 12 inches (5 – 30.5cm) tall.
How Fast Do They Grow?
This houseplant is known to be a slow grower. Typically, an air plant will grow just under 1 inch (2.5cm) a year before it reaches its mature height.
How Long Do They Live?
If it receives the proper care a Tillandsia can survive for around 5 years. The plant only blooms once in its lifetime and will sadly die off after it has flowered.
Are They Toxic to Cats and Dogs?
Air plants are safe for cats or dogs. So, you don’t have to worry if your feline friend or dog is gnawing on its leaves.
The only concern surrounding this plant is that it can be harmed by your pets. Make sure that your cat doesn’t scratch its leaves or pull too many of them off.
Air Plant Care
The air plant is a low-maintenance houseplant that can absolutely flourish if it’s given the right care. The exact care requirements are discussed below.
How to Water
Tillandsia does not simply survive on air alone, it needs a good amount of water too. Typically, you should water it once a week.
Additionally, you should also keep in mind that depending on the season you may have to adjust your watering schedule. If you live in a particularly hot region then you can water it every 5 days, whereas, if you live in a humid environment then you can water the plant every 10 days.
Here are the steps to watering your air plant:
- Put your air plant in a sink or small jar with plenty of water to submerge it.
- Allow the air plant to soak in the water for 30 minutes.
- Gently shake the air plant to remove any excess water, then turn it upside down and place it on a towel to allow the plant to dry.
- When it is dry, you can place it back in its home.
Top Tip: Avoid using tap water as the chemicals and minerals will clog the air plant’s trichomes, therefore, reducing the amount of nutrients it can absorb.
Can You Trim It?
Yes. Air plants need pruning to maintain their appearance and health. Trimming the plant is fairly straightforward, all you need to do is to use a clean pair of scissors and cut the leaves off at an angle.
Ideally, it should be trimmed during the spring or summer months. When any brown or damaged leaves appear, you should snip them off or even pull them off immediately to encourage healthier growth.
Be careful not to cut into the base of the plant, and don’t remove too much foliage. Trimming off too many leaves at once will mean that your plant doesn’t have enough foliage to photosynthesize regularly.
As this houseplant isn’t grown in soil or water, you don’t really “repot” it. If you want to move your air plant to a new location you must just be careful not to damage its trichomes or break its roots.
Simply, move the air plant and either tie it up to its new sunny home or glue it down. Once it has been moved you can care for it as you normally would.
Do They Need Sun?
Similar to the snake plant, Tillandsia also loves bright, filtered sunlight and needs to soak in the sunshine for at least 4 to 6 hours a day. The best place to grow this plant is by a windowsill or any area where the sun shines through.
Check that the houseplant isn’t scorching in direct sunlight as its leaves will burn.
How to Fertilize
The air plant only requires to be fed twice a month during the spring and summertime. It prefers a bromeliad fertilizer (17-8-22) that has been diluted to about one-quarter of its strength.
You can also use any fertilizer that is suited to epiphytes because they contain nitrogen in a form that the air plant can absorb.
Holders and Other “Pots”
These stunning houseplants don’t grow in soil, so you’ll have plenty of options when planting them.
There are so many creative ways that you can grow your plant and suit it to your personal style and house. You can use a fishing line, glue, wire or nails to attach your plant to its new home. This plant’s versatility makes for a great decorative piece.
Awesome “containers” for an air plant:
- Teacup, vase, or bowl: You can place it in an oversized teacup, bowl, or even a shallow vase. To enhance the look of the plant you should put some rocks around it.
- Driftwood: Try tying or gluing the air plant to a piece of driftwood that can be placed anywhere around your home. You can even hang the driftwood on your wall.
- Macrame: Once you have placed the air plant in its container, a brilliant way to decorate the pot is by placing a macrame around it.
- Wire: Find a small stone or pebble and grow the Tillandsia on it by supporting it with a wire. You could attach the wire to any other item that you want to grow your houseplant on, just secure the wire around the base of the plant.
- Hanging baskets: This is a very popular way to grow air plants, you could find a wooden bowl and hang it up with some rope, or purchase a metal hanging basket. The air plant merely has to be secured to the basket and it’s good to go.
- Terrarium: We know glass terrariums are trending right now but sadly, they are not a good home for an air plant. Air plants need plenty of air circulation and unfortunately, terrariums don’t allow for this. If you still decide to use one, then you’ll have to remove it from time to time for proper air circulation.
Top Tip: Make sure that you avoid any pot made of copper as it’s toxic to Tillandsia.
The air plant can withstand a wide range of temperatures between 50 to 90°F (10 – 32.2°C).
This tropical plant cannot survive cold temperatures. It is crucial that it’s kept frost-free or else it may die.
The air plant, just like the rattlesnake plant, prefers a humid environment. Tillandsia thrives in humidity around the 50 to 70% range. The best home for this houseplant is a sunny bathroom where the air is moist.
If you live in a particularly dry region then you should mist the plant frequently.
Follow the steps below to mist your air plant:
- Spray the entire plant with lukewarm water.
- Place the air plant on top of a towel for around 3 hours.
- Put your plant back in its sunny home where it can dry off.
Keep in mind that you don’t want the plant to become too moist. This can lead to root rot and too much moisture results in poor air circulation.
Can They Live Outside?
You can grow an air plant outside during the warmer months on your balcony or patio but there are a few things you’ll need to do.
Just like many other houseplants such as the Chinese evergreen, the air plant mustn’t be placed in full sunlight as its leaves will wither away, instead, you should place it in an area where it’ll receive filtered sunlight. You’ll need to adjust your watering schedule as the houseplant will require more water.
Once winter has set in, you must bring your plant indoors as it won’t survive in cool temperatures. Always make sure that the air plant is never exposed to extreme temperatures or sunlight.
Do They Bloom?
Tillandsia only flowers once in its lifetime before it slowly dies, just like a bromeliad. If optimally cared for the plant will bloom once it has reached its mature height.
These incredible flowers will last anywhere from a week to a few months.
You can expect stunning blooms in an array of colors such as pink, purple, white, orange, red, and yellow. The time of blooming differs depending on the variation, but you can expect it to flower anytime between mid-winter through mid-summer.
You’ll notice that around the time it blooms, the mother plant will produce numerous pups that you can propagate later on.
How to Grow
Tillandsia can be grown by propagating its pups and by planting its seed. We’ll give you the necessary steps to grow a luscious air plant.
The best time to grow your air plant from a seed is during the spring or summer months.
- Soak the seeds in cool, filtered water for at least 24 hours.
- Take out your seed tray, fill it with peat moss, and mist the moss with fungicide.
- Now you can sprinkle the seeds evenly across the peat moss and then mist them with fungicide as well.
- Put the lid on top of the seed tray and position it on a sunny windowsill.
- If you notice that the moss dries out then spritz it with water.
- Once the seedlings are around 1 inch (2.5cm) tall and have grown 1 to 3 leaves, you can remove the lid and mist the peat moss when it dries out.
- You can then carefully remove the seedlings and either glue them to their new home or place it in a pot/bowl.
- You can then care for the seedlings the same way you would look after a mature air plant.
How to Propagate Pups
Pups, also known as offsets, are miniature replicas of the mother plant. You can multiply your air plant collection or continue growing it after the mother plant has died by propagating the offsets produced.
The air plant will produce several pups just before it blooms, however, they can only be removed once it’s at least one-third of the mother plant’s size.
Follow the how-to guide below to propagate the pups;
- Take out a sterilized pair of scissors or pruners and cut the pups at the mother plant’s base. Be careful not to cut into the offset.
- Find your pup a new home where it’ll bask in sunshine and keep moist. You can hang it up with a string or glue it to a pot.
- You can then care for the pup as you would a mature air plant.
How to Revive
The air plant is pretty easy to care for and isn’t too demanding, however, the plant can still run into some trouble. It can suffer from root rot, underwatering, and trichome damage. Below we’ll tell you what could be wrong with your air plant and what you should do to revive it.
Root rot is caused by overwatering, which occurs when the plant is left to soak in water for far too long. It’s very important that you allow your houseplant to dry out before putting it back in its original place.
You can tell when the roots have become rot because they turn black or brown and become squishy.
Once you notice root rot you need to refrain from watering your houseplant until it has fully dried out. Make sure to cut back the damaged roots and place the plant in a warm, sunny area.
Entire Leaf Turning Brown
Are your Tillandsia’s outer leaves turning completely brown? Breathe a sigh of relief because this is totally normal.
This is called leaf abscission and occurs as your plant ages. The older leaves at the base of the houseplant will dry out and brown. You can quickly pull these leaves off so that energy can be directed to new growth.
Leaf Tip Turning Brown
When your leaf’s tips turn brown it is being underwater or lacking moisture. Its margins will be shriveled and the leaf will eventually wither away.
Find yourself a clean pair of scissors and trim these leaf tips back and water the plant immediately.
You’ll need to adjust your watering schedule in the future to ensure that it doesn’t dry out again.
Damage to the Trichome
Trichomes are super important for your plant to survive, it’s how it gets all of the nutrients needed to grow and thrive. This means that you need to be careful when handling the plant and its leaves because trichomes don’t grow back or recover.
Damage to trichomes could be the demise of your plant as it won’t absorb the nutrients necessary for its survival.
Cats are often attracted to the plant so maybe keep it out of your pet’s reach to avoid any scratches on the leaves.
A Quick Recap
Tillandsia blooms are striking and radiant, however, you need to care for them properly if you wish for them to flower. Make sure that you provide the plant with enough moisture and keep an eye on it and adjust your care regime if required.
It may seem like a tricky houseplant at first, but it really is a stunning plant if you provide it with some good care.