Tillandsias (Air plants)
Air plants are unlike any other houseplant. They don’t need a pot, or even any soil to survive. And yet their low-maintenance temperament, coupled with their elegant foliage and fleeting, ethereal flowers, means they are fast becoming a firm favourite amongst houseplant enthusiasts.
Learn all about them with our guide to caring for these remarkable florae.
So what exactly are Air plants?
All 650 species of air plants belong to a large, diverse genus known as Tillandsia. Originating from tropical, mountainous, and desert regions of Southern and Central America and the Caribbean, these plants have a unique ability to thrive without any soil. Air plants are epiphytes (a plant that grows on another plant but doesn’t feed from it), using their short roots as an anchor system to cling on to other structures like trees, rocks, other plants, and even man-made structures. Unlike most plants that absorb nutrients and water via their roots, air plants absorb nutrients and water through porous, hair-like cells on their foliage called trichomes.
What do Air plants look like?
Most Tillandsias have long, slender, silver spiked leaves that protrude in a rosette-like formation from the centre of the plant. Foliage ranges in colour from silvery greens to muted greys, and some have deep crimson blushes in strong sunlight.
Tillandsias bloom only once in their lifetime. Sometimes, the flowers last for just a day or two, but a full flower head can bloom for many months. Most Tillandsia flowers are bright fuchsia, violet, or orange in colour, and are highly exotic in appearance, such as the ethereal. The plant begins to die off after flowering, but that is whilst it has produced offsets that eventually replace the original plant. It may take several years to die completely.
Styling your Air plants
Because air plants don’t need soil or even a pot, you can really get creative displaying them. Try hanging them in open glass orbs to make a feature of the exposed root systems. This looks especially cool with long curly leaved varieties like Tillandsia ‘Eric Knobloch’, allowing the foliage to cascade down. Open glass terrariums are another way to showcase the unusual anatomy of Tillandsia. Shell and rock collections or pieces of driftwood make good ‘substrates’ for a naturalistic display. You could even anchor your Tillandsia in a more precarious position using copper-free wire, nails or hot air plant glue to secure its roots. However you display yours, make sure the roots and foliage are exposed to plenty of fresh air.
The amount of light your air plant needs depends on its species but in general they love high light. Varieties like Tillandsia ‘Silver Queen’ originate from warm, humid areas with plenty of sunlight. They do best in a bright position with lots of direct light. Green varieties such as Tillandsia Capitata have greener foliage and absorb light more efficiently. They hail from cooler, shadier forest areas, so will tolerate a moderately shady spot in your home.
Despite being low-maintenance in all other areas, Tillandsias are somewhat particular about their watering. Luckily, they are clever communicators and will let you know when they are thirsty by fading from green to silver as they dry out. After watering, the foliage should return to a brighter green. They are sensitive to chemicals like fluoride or chlorine, so try to use rainwater or dechlorinated water for your air plant.
Since Tillandsia absorbs water via the trichomes on its foliage, you should thoroughly mist its leaves two or three times per week during the growing period. Additionally, you should fully submerge your plant in water every two to three weeks for 30minutes, draining the plant thoroughly after. Silver varieties only need a quick dunking, since they have lots of trichomes to absorb water. Green varieties have fewer trichomes so need submerging for a couple of hours. Allow the plant to dry thoroughly after watering.
TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY
Tillandsia do just fine in average household temperatures, so you shouldn’t need to make any special adjustments. Keep them away from drafts, radiators, or air conditioning units as they don’t like extreme temperatures. Air plants prefer relatively high humidity levels, so consider displaying them in a bathroom or kitchen where moisture levels are naturally higher than the rest of the house.
You won’t need to provide much additional food for your Tillandsia, since their trichomes are efficient at extracting nutrients from the air. To encourage blooming, you can enrich their water with a low-nitrogen water-soluble food, but it isn’t essential. We stock a special houseplant fertiliser.
Tillandsias produce offsets or ‘pups’, as they get ready to bloom. Once the pups are around a third of the size of the mother plant, they should pull away easily, or you can use a knife to remove them. Simply treat the pups as you would a mature Tillandsia.
Intrigued by these other-worldly plants? Eager to introduce some soil-less sorcery to your houseplant collection? Then check out our impressive range of Tillandsia below.
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