10 Fast Facts About Air Plants and Their Care (Tillandsia spp.)

  1. Tillandsia is the most prolific and varied genus of the pineapple family or Bromeliacea. There are an estimated 500 different species of these incredible tropical air plants. Most (and all the ones being discussed here) are epiphytic.
  2. Epiphytic is fancy-speak for plants that hang about on other plants (mainly tree branches) gathering moisture and nutrients from tropical humid air through their aerial roots. They do not require soil. Ever. I’m not sure why I felt the need to add ever.
  3. Tillandsia do require watering, especially since most homes are the polar opposite of their native humid tropical forest home. They are also appreciative of frequent misting. To water, simply submerge the entire plant in a sink or bowl of room temperature water and allow them to soak for approximately 30 minutes. Remove them from the water, give them a gentle shake and then place them upside down on a towel until any lingering water droplets have dried. Return to their display or wherever you keep them between waterings. Done!
  4. Too much chlorine (often found in tap water) can cause your air plants to turn brown at the tips. Using distilled water won’t provide your plants with any of the nutrients they need. Softened water will be too high in salts. The best water for your air plants is spring or rainwater.
  5. Air plants with silver foliage are the most drought tolerant, while the greener ones require more moisture. A good rule of thumb is to water air plants with silver foliage every two weeks and ones with green foliage once a week. If the tips of the leaves are brown it is probably not being watered/submerged enough. If the centre is brown, it is likely being watered/submerged too much. (Do not submerge a blossom or bud in water as it can lead to rot).
  6. Air plants are often described as having an alien-like appearance with their leaves resembling tentacles. Others compare them to succulents. However you choose to describe them, once you allow an air plant into your heart and home, you will soon become smitten with these delightful creatures. Most even produce colourful, appealing, flowers. The only downside to growing air plants is how they can fast become addictive. Many growers actively seek out (and spend small fortunes) on rarer species to add to their ever-growing collection.
  7. Spanish moss is a card carrying member of the tillandsia family. Many air plant aficionados add this prolific well-known air plant to their indoor collection. Spanish moss Tillandsia Usneoidesis is capable of reaching lengths of 6 – 7.5 meters (20 – 25 feet) so be prepared to break out those pruning shears from time to time!
  8. Suspending an air plant above a bowl of water is a great way to provide the humidity tillandsia crave. You can also more closely mimic their natural habitat by setting them in a larger houseplant, such as a fig tree. Bathrooms are also great hangouts for these moisture lovers.
  9. While air plants will tolerate lower light situations they are happiest with plenty of bright, indirect lighting. A popular way of displaying air plants is to tuck them in glass globes and hang them in the window. While this looks amazing, it can make the lighting more intense and bright than a tillandsia likes. Try hanging these danglers where the sun won’t directly shine on them.
  10. Most air plants require little in the way of fertilizer (especially if you use rainwater for watering) but if your tillandsia is looking a little peaked or about to flower or has gone through a growth spurt, you could provide it with a smidge of orchid or bromeliad specific fertilizer. Many growers routinely do this two to three times a year. Again, please do not submerge a blossom or bud in water as it can lead to rot.


Photo by Madison Inouye on

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