What are Air Plants?

Have you heard of air plants? They sound low maintenance, but they do need special care to thrive. Here is everything you need to know about air plants.
picture of various air plants

Most people are fond of the idea of home décor with plants. There are many proven mental and physical health benefits of home plants. But, potted plants that have roots and need soil are not suitable for all living spaces.

Air plants don’t have roots and they don’t need soil. They are a perfect solution to make your living space bright and healthy.

Air plant is the common name for Tillandsia – a genus of 650 species of perennial flowering plants and evergreens. They belong to the Bromeliaceae family and are mostly found in Mexico and South-Eastern America.

Tillandsia gets its common name “air plants” because they do not need soil to grow. They cling on trees, rocks, telephone lines, etc., absorbing nutrients from the air.

To understand what are air plants and how do air plants grow, read ahead.

What Are Air Plants?

Air plants are also epiphytes. That means that they do not absorb their nutrients from the soil.

Instead, they attach to other objects like trees, cliff ends, wires and rocks. f they attach themselves to trees, they do not feed off the host to grow.

Air plants use their tiny, wiry roots to cling on to other objects. There are tiny scales on their leaves; called trichomes, which help them absorb water and nutrients from the air. They can grow in diverse environments and thrive well in shade or on lower levels in the forest.

Where do Air Plants come from?

Air plants are native to the deserts, mountains, and forests of Mexico, South-Eastern America and West Indies.

In the US, you can find them in the southern states like Florida, California, and Texas. There are over 600 types of air plants and they live in many diverse environments. In the wild, they will attach trees, driftwood or shells and get their nutrients from the air.

How to Care for Air Plants

Even though air plants are low maintenance, they need special care and attention to thrive. When you first get an air plant for your living space, soak it in water for about 15 minutes. Put it upside down and give it a little shake to dry it completely.

After soaking, your air plant is ready to display. We recommend displaying them in a shell, on driftwood, or between the leaves of other houseplants. Consider factors like air, water, light, and warmth of the environment you are going to keep them in.

Find out more information on air plants and their care in this video:

Here are some important factors to consider:

Watering Air Plants

The leaves of your air plants tell you a lot about their water needs. Air plants that have leaves with a frizzy texture come from regions that have a dry, warm climate. They can survive well even if you water them once or twice a week and place them in areas with more sunlight.

Air plants whose leaves have a smooth texture come from shaded forests that have enough rainfall. They have less obvious trichomes and, hence, need extra care when it comes to water and shade.

The watering of air plants depends on the climate of the area you live in. If the climate is hot and dry, you need to mist and soak the plants more. But, if the climate is cold and moist, you don’t need to water the plants as much. There are three main ways to water air plants— soaking, dunking, and spraying.

Here are some general recommendations:

Spraying

Mist your Tillandsia between dunkings or soakings if it looks like it needs it – dry tips.

Dunking

Submerge your air plant in water or under a faucet then set it out to dry. Do this about once a week or as needed.

Soaking

Put your plants in a bowl of water to soak once a week. The amount of time to soak the air plant will depend on the species, your climate, and the needs of the plant. Each air plant will need a different soak time.

After watering the air plants, shake off any excess water from the leaves. Then put them in a ventilated room so that any excess moisture dries.

Check out our complete guide on how to water air plants.

Light

Direct sunlight does not harm air plants but most prefer indirect or filtered light. For their best care, keep them a few feet away from the window.

Homes are obviously darker than the outdoors. So, make sure you provide them with decent exposure to indirect sunlight. They can tolerate more direct sunlight if they have been recently watered.

Keeping their habitat in mind, provide them with appropriate exposure to indirect sunlight.

Temperature

Tillandsias are tropical plants; so, they cannot survive cold, freezing temperatures. Don’t keep them near air conditioners or in cold temperatures.

The ideal temperature for the air plant to survive is 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit. Air plants tend to die below a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Life Cycle

Air plants are well known for their long life span. But, the blooming period of an air plant comes only once in its lifetime and lasts for many days or even months. In its once in a lifetime blooming period, they produce beautiful and bright flowers. Their life cycle has the following stages:

Blooming

The very first stage in an air plant’s life cycle is the bloom phase. It is the reproductive stage where it will produce an inflorescence. A flower will appear from the inflorescence soon and will go into full bloom. Some air plants produce only one flower, while others produce many.

The bloom period will last from many days or even months, depending on the type of air plant. The blooming period of an air plant comes only once, but the plant will keep on thriving after the bloom is gone.

Pups

The second stage is the pup-producing phase. The pups grow at the base of the plant or under the protection of dead leaves of the parent plant. They have their own root center that sets them apart from the leaves of the parent plant.

The pup will then go through its own life cycle of blooming and producing pups. Water the air plant before twisting the pup downwards to remove it from the parent plant.

Clumping

The third phase of an air plant life cycle is clumping. If you leave the pups attached to the parent plants, they will form clumps. You can also bind together various plants; they will begin to grow together in clumps.

Clumping also occurs in air plants in their natural habitats. Some let the pups grow with their parent plants into clumps and do not separate them.

Propagation

This is how air plants grow.

In a natural habitat, an air plant produces seeds in the dry season. This prevents the seeds from washing away with rain.

Once the air plant produces flowers, it produces seeds. After the rainy season, the seeds start to grow into a plant. The growth of air plants from seeds is a long and difficult process. You have to keep the seeds damp. But, watering them too much can increase the risk of fungus growth.

This propagation method takes months, and in the first few years, the growth of the plant is very slow. After it reaches an inch, it starts growing faster. Even though this method takes a lot of time and effort, it results in healthy, beautiful air plants.

Displaying air plants

Since air plants don’t need soil, you can display them in many innovative and creative ways. Here are some display ideas for displaying your air plant in your living space.

Terrariums

Air plants can be beautifully displayed in transparent glass containers such as terrariums. You can enhance your air plant terrariums by adding pebbles, seashells, and moss. You can also suspend them from the ceiling.

Or, place on a tabletop to add more personality to your living room or kitchen.

Aeriums

Aeriums are also glass enclosures for air plants. They are an alternative to terrariums. You can add pebbles, rocks, sand or moss in the aeriums. You can place these glass containers on a tabletop or mount them on a wall to decorate your room.

Mounting

Another creative way to use air plants for room décor is to mount your air plant. Common mounting surfaces are seashells, driftwood, rocks, and bark pieces. Ensure that the mounting object remains free from fungus growth as that can harm your air plant.

Conclusion

An air plant can be a beautiful inclusion to your living space décor. With little maintenance and decent care, your air plants can thrive. Because air plants are low maintenance, you can display them in creative containers or mount them on objects to enhance the beauty of your house.

FAQs

What kind of glue do you use to mount air plants?

To mount air plants in terrariums or any other object, you need glue. A common formula is E-6000 as it is waterproof and does not harm the air plant. You can also use liquid nails or a glue gun to mount the air plant.

Allow the glue from the glue gun to cool for a moment and then stick your plant with it to prevent the plant from burning. Also, avoid using super glue as it can harm your air plant.

Can you grow air plants from seeds?

Yes.

You can grow your air plant from seeds, but it takes two to four years for the plant to grow to adulthood. Growing from seeds is a long and difficult process because you need to keep the seed damp. Just not so damp that it encourages the growth of fungus.

It takes months for germination of the seeds, and for the first few years, air plants grow slowly.

Can an artificial light source provide enough light to an air plant?

Yes.

An artificial light source can provide light to an air plant. You can use a plant light, halogen or fluorescent light source to provide proper light to the plant. Make sure to keep the plant 1-2 feet away from the light source for adequate growth.

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