A Breath of Fresh Air


An introduction to air plants.

Written by Charlie Thigpen

Photo by Lindsey Griffin

 

If you like interesting yet easy plants, you’ll appreciate Tillandsias.

More commonly known as “air plants,” Tillandsias are the largest genus of the bromeliad family. Air plants are an oddity in the plant world because they don’t require soil. They’re epiphytes, like Spanish moss, which means they grow on other plants or surfaces, rather than in the ground. They use their root system to attach themselves to trees or rocks and take in nutrients and moisture in the air through their leaves instead of their roots. There are more than 500 known species that grow from rainforests to desert environments. Air plants are native to Florida and California, as well as Central or South America. They are not winter-hardy in the Birmingham area, but they make great indoor plants year-round.

 

Stayin’ Alive

The light required for Tillandsias should be bright indirect or filtered light. Soak your Tillandsia for an hour once weekly to keep them hydrated. Air plants have tiny, moisture-trapping scales on their leaves called trichomes, which give the plants a silvery gray shimmer. In the wild, air plants take in the water that they need from dew and rain. Plants should be given enough light and air circulation to dry in no longer than four hours after watering. Spray misting is insufficient as the sole means of watering but may be beneficial between regular waterings.

 

Air Plant Arrangements

Place air plants in terrariums where they’ll thrive in the humid environment. Small bubble–like hanging terrariums that are positioned close to windows are a great way to display them.  You can also position air plants in a small vase or tiny planter to elevate them and show off the plant’s shape and form. Arrange them in a glass or wooden bowl and use them as a centerpiece. Place them around a few candle-lit votives for a great nighttime arrangement.

These plants do occasionally have colorful, small blooms, but they’re best known for their interesting foliage and ability to grow without soil. Just give them a little light and water, and you’ll have success with these sculptural plants.

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