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What Exactly IS an Air Plant?

Photo of a Xerographica air plant
Air plants are interesting little plants in the scientific genus Tillandsia, made up of around 650 species of flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae (same family as Bromeliads as you may have guessed). They are native to the forests, mountains and deserts of northern Mexico and south-eastern United States (including Florida), all the way to Argentina in the middle of South America.

Their leaves are kinda silvery in color. They are covered with specialized cells called trichomes ("tri-combs") that are capable of quickly absorbing water that gathers on them.

Tillandsia are also commonly known as air plants because most of them are  epiphytes, meaning they don't need soil for nourishment. They have a natural habit to cling to whatever surface is readily available: telephone wires, tree branches, bark, bare rocks, etc.

I can't tell you how many people I've had this conversation with...
"I need a new air plant, I killed mine" 
"Ok Coll we have air plants in stock, but let's see if we can help you keep this one alive longer! How often did you water it?"
"I need to water it??"
LOL - all kidding aside, they ARE plants so they DO need to be watered! I've learned many people here in the Sunshine State see air plants living in the trees outside and think the ones we buy at plant shops can survive the same way.
The truth is, most of the air plant species sold at plant shops are not native to Florida so they have different needs. I know most of the air plant species I get from our suppliers are from Central and South America where it is even more humid and they get more rainfall than we do. This means that if we're keeping them indoors, we do need to water them! But how often? And how much light do they need?
These 3 simple things will keep your air plant thriving!
1) Give it bright but indirect light (the sun does not touch the plant directly). Indoors you can simply place your tillandsia within a few feet of a window.
2) Water regularly, ideally every 7-10 days.
Soaking method: submerge your air plant in a clean tub of water for 6-8 hours. Rain water is best, or you can use tap water that has been allowed to sit for 15 minutes (to allow the chlorine to dissipate. After soaking, dry upside down allowing the plant good air circulation. After 4 hours shake out any remaining water.
Spritzing method: Using a spray bottle, completely drench all surfaces of your air plant until is is dripping wet. A couple of light mists will not give the plant enough water. Alternatively you could take it to the sink and get it under the running faucet. Then let it to dry upside down, allowing the plant good air circulation. After 4 hours shake out any remaining water.
*Make sure no water remains in the crown of the plant (where all the leaves emerge from) which will cause it to rot!
3) Provide good air circulation! While terrarium might look cute with air plants inside, unless the terrarium is enormous, it likely won't allow the plant enough air circulation. The movement of air over their leaves is vital to their long term health. Remember they are normally found attached to trees with air circulating all around them!
And my Pro-Tip for making sure you don't forget to water? Set a weekly reminder on your phone for a day and time that you are usually home. My reminder goes off every Sunday morning at 8am! And if you didn't already, go ahead and write it down on your To Do list even after you've watered so you can immediately cross it off and feel like you've gotten something accomplished that day! LOL 

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