Air plants have become quite trendy to have around the home or office, and they definitely live up to the hype!
These incredible plants are easily-maintained, have stunning blooms (unlike many other common houseplants), and are great for the both the beginner house-plant enthusiast and master botanist & plant expert!
These plants require very little moisture and live in trees, using their roots to anchor themselves to bark. While there are many epiphytic plants (non-parasitic plants that use other plants as their substrate/support rather than soil), most people think of the Tillandsia genus as an air plant. Other epiphytes include orchids, pothos, philodendrons, and Spanish moss. Occasionally, Tillandsias also are lithophytes, meaning that they grow on rocks and other non-organic surfaces too!
Tillandsias grow in many habitats of South & Central America, and Southeastern United States. They love tropical swampy, forest, desert, or mountainous environments.
When they mature and are ready to pass it’s genes off to the next generation, the plant produces a large, vibrant flower. This flower attracts pollinators such as hummingbirds, moths, and bats. The flower may last for a few days in order to maximize it’s ability to get pollinated. If the flower is successfully pollinated, the air plant produces seeds.
The poofy, light-weight seeds (think fluffy like Dandelion, milkweed, or clematis seeds) of the plant are caught in the air and float around until they land and germinate on trees, wires, rocks, or other stable surface. Some desert species can even grow on top of the shifting sands!
After the seeds are dispersed, the host (or mother) produces a pup, or baby plant that is genetically identical to the mother. This pup allows for the plant to once again try to produce a flower, get pollinated, and spread seeds.
Tillandsia have a unique part of their anatomy that many other plants don’t have: Trichomes.
Trichomes are small hair-like structures that any air moisture sticks to. While a rain can quickly drench the air plants, and any other plants, these trichomes also can absorb dew, fog, or general excess humidity. A dry plant is a white, or grey-ish green plant, and when the trichomes get wet, they appear translucent, making the plants look much greener!
As mentioned earlier, air plants make amazing house plants! You don’t need an expensive pot, soil, or a flat windowsill. In fact, these plants like to cling to other objects, so if you have other houseplants, you can set the air plant gently on top of sturdy species.
They like bright light however, many are used to being covered by tree canopies, so indirect light is best.
There are two ways to water your air plant:
After a while (it can be months or even years), your air plant may bloom! This is always exciting, but be on the lookout for pup growth. Once they are at least 1/3 the size of the mother, you can gently remove the pup if desired.
Keep in mind that different species and individuals may look slightly different. In the image here, the mother plant (Tillandsia ionatha) has a pup attached to her on the left. A genetically different Tillandsia ionatha was much smaller when it had a pup, so the removed pup (on the far right) is smaller.
Try playing around with these amazing plants! If one produces pups, gift to a friend and spread your passion for plants.