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Gardening 101: Air Plants

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Gardening 101: Air Plants

November 24, 2020

Air Plant, Tillandsia: “The Air Head”

Tillandsia, with its spray of spindly green tentacles, is the ideal low-maintenance indoor plant (not to mention a subtle nod to 1980s rocker hair).

A member of the evergreen family, tillandsia thrives in all four seasons and never loses its color. But the tillandsia belongs to another, even more exclusive club: the aerophytes. Few in number and prized for their self-sufficiency, aerophytes do not need to be planted in soil. Instead, they get their energy simply from water and sunlight.

Photograph by The Weaver House courtesy of Solabee.  Solabee Flowers sells a selection of air plants online for \$\10 and up, depending on size and variety. For more, see Shopper&#8\2\17;s Diary: A Drugstore-Vibe at Solabee Flowers in Portland, Oregon.
Above: Photograph by The Weaver House courtesy of Solabee.  Solabee Flowers sells a selection of air plants online for $10 and up, depending on size and variety. For more, see Shopper’s Diary: A Drugstore-Vibe at Solabee Flowers in Portland, Oregon.
Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista. For more, see Gardening \10\1: How to Water an Air Plant.
Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista. For more, see Gardening 101: How to Water an Air Plant.

Tillandsia plants can be small enough to fit in your palm, or large enough to sprout like wigs when they grow in the wild on the sides of trees. Any size tillandsia has the power to instantly incite a DIY project: miniature indoor garden, suspended terrarium, we’ve done them (and loved them) all.

Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.
Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

A vented glass sphere the size of a Wiffle ball will, by the way, make a lovely container for a tillandsia you can cup in your palm. Add colored sand or sea glass to the bottom of the glass sphere, and then layer shells or little pieces of moss and wood for the look of a natural mini-environment.

Photograph by Clare Coulson.
Above: Photograph by Clare Coulson.

“Many plants need much less water than you imagine, especially in winter. A case in point is Tillandsia xerographica, the air plant, £15 at Conservatory Archives,” writes Clare. For more, see Shopper’s Diary: Conservatory Archives in East London.

Cheat Sheet

  • Goes well with mosses and grasses inside a terrarium.
  • Complements orchids for the exotic look.
  • Very rarely flowers; watch for the leaves to turn red as a plant grows tiny red and purple buds.

Keep It Alive

  • A tillandsia is happiest in partial to full but filtered sun.
  • Submerge in water once every two weeks, you will be forgiven if you miss a few times.
  • Extremely hardy, this is the ideal houseplant.
Photograph courtesy of Sprout Home.
Above: Photograph courtesy of Sprout Home.

Settle a tillandsia inside a new home and hang the terrarium from the ceiling by a length of raw jute rope. Or, if you have a tiny, finger-sized tillandsia, secure it inside of a thimble glued to a magnetic strip, and there you have a living refrigerator magnet. We could go on for days.

Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista. For more, see Gardening \10\1: How to Water an Air Plant.
Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista. For more, see Gardening 101: How to Water an Air Plant.

Oh, and don’t forget: to keep it alive, submerge a tillandsia in a bowl of filtered water (it hates fluoride) overnight, once a week.

For more ideas for indoor tillandsia decor, see 7 Secrets to Living with a Flat Screen TV, Cord-Control Edition and 5 Favorites: Living Ornaments.

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for air plants with our Air Plant: A Field Guide.

Interested in other annuals for your garden? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various annuals with our Annuals: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various houseplants with our Houseplants: A Field Guide.

Interested in other tropical plants for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various tropical plants with our Tropical Plants: A Field Guide.

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