My ever-growing collection of air plants live mostly in my north-facing kitchen window—some hang in decorative tropical seed pods and others sit on branches of a whimsical felt tree. Many of the plants have been with me for several years and some have even made babies (many of them have names). Most of the time, I keep a routine of soaking them in room temperature water for about 20 minutes each week, but I have been known to skip a week or two between watering and, on more than one occasion I have accidentally left my plants soaking in water for an entire 8- to 10-hour workday! I can’t say enough about how forgiving these little plants are, as long as you show a little effort. So, let’s learn a little more about these plants, shall we?
Air plants are formally known as Tillandsia—a part of the family Bromeliaceae—a family of mostly epiphytes, meaning plants that grow on other plants, trees, nurse logs, rocks, or whatever they can get their “hands” on. Tillandsias absorb water from their foliage, while their roots simply act as an anchor to secure them in place.
If you’re anything like us, the first time you laid eyes on these wild freaks of nature, you were simultaneously baffled and instantly in love. How is it possible? I mean, where’s the soil? How do you water it? Is this some crazy invention a mad botanist came up with? No, it sure is not… this is how these amazing plants live—dirt not required—such independent spirits! In addition to being absolutely adorable, Tillandsias are not only low maintenance, but are also pet safe and can occasionally produce a bloom, usually in pinks and purples, although flowering usually signals the end of life for the plant.
Native to South and Central America and found in the southern most parts of North America, Tillandsia can be found in a wide range of climates. Simulating the air plant’s natural habitat will ensure a long and healthy life. A few general telltale signs of what to provide your Tillandsia come from the appearance of its foliage:
- Thin green foliage: often means that it originates from a humid, tropical/subtropical environment, and needs regular weekly soakings for about 10 minutes; also benefits from spritzing throughout the week
- Thick foliage or silver fuzzy foliage: means it comes from dryer air environments and only needs to be run under the faucet briefly or get a dunk in a bowl of water once a week
All tillandsias prefer room temperature water; filling a bowl and letting it sit for an hour or two will do the trick. After their weekly watering, shake off excess water and drip dry in a warm room, sitting upside down so any excess water can drain out. Sitting water caught in between their foliage can cause rotting.
Tillandsia prefer bright, indirect light, like the filtered light they would receive under tree canopies. Most can handle direct morning light, but anything stronger may cause burnt tips. Some species are hardy down to 50°F, much lower than a lot of other popular tropical houseplants. Your tillandsia will greatly benefit from fresh, moving air, so crack open those windows on a warm spring or fall day!