Air Plant Information & Care
All about Tillandsia (air plants)!
Air plants are in the genus Tillandsia. They are in the Bromeliad or Bromeliaceae family and have roughly 540 natural species.
Tillandsia are adapted to live in a variety of challenging climates around the Americas. You will find these amazingly hardy plants in the southern parts of the United States, Mexico, Central America and South America. With very specific evolutionary adaptations these plants can live in jungles, cloud forests, deserts and mountain highlands.
Air plant shape and size is directly affected by the specific climates in which they live. Wet climates with abundant and consistent rainfall produces plants with thinner leaves. Deserts that are prone to drought or long periods of dry hot weather have naturally selected thicker leaved plants that are better at storing water like a camel. These plants also have developed involuted or curled leaves that help to protect it from dehydration. Microscopic white hairs called trichomes collect water and act as sunscreen are common on these desert plants.
Why don’t Tillandsia live planted in soil? Tillandsia are epiphytes that have adapted to rely on their leaves instead of their roots to absorb their nutrients and moisture. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, rocks and structures and don’t need soil to live. Epiphytes are not parasites, meaning they do not take nutrients or moisture from their host. The internal structure and anatomy of Tillandsia have adapted to survive on varied hosts both alive and not. Being up in trees or on rocky cliffs protects these plants from damage done by foraging animals, flooding or erosion on the ground.
Air plants should be kept where they'll receive bright, indirect sunlight or under fluorescent home/office lighting. Periods of direct sunlight are just fine, but more than a few hours of hot sun will deplete the plants of their moisture. If your plant will be in a spot with some pretty direct light, try misting them every couple of days to keep them hydrated.
Air plants live on air, right? Uh...not right! While air plants don't grow in soil, they definitely NEED to be watered. Tillandsia can survive for long periods of drought, but they will not grow or thrive and will eventually die if water is too scarce. Follow the directions below for watering your plants on a regular basis and they will stay alive and well for quite some time. The good news is that since these plants are very forgiving, you shouldn't stress over their care schedule.
Caring for your air plants!
How to water
You can rinse them, spray them or soak them. Our preferred method of watering is to give them a thorough rinsing under running water. If you decide to spray them, give them a heavy mist with a spray bottle, ensuring all surfaces of the leaves get wet. If you prefer to soak them, submerge them in a bath of lukewarm water for 20-30 minutes. You can use a bowl, the sink or even the bathtub if you've got a family.
After their shower or bath, gently shake the plants to remove any excess water from the base and the leaves, and set out to dry in an area with enough air circulation to dry them out in about 4 hours. If your plants need an in-between watering, misting them with a spray bottle is a great method. A plant in bloom should be rinsed rather than submerged in water, and take care when rinsing the delicate flowers.
When to water
Your plants should be watered at least once per week, but 2-3 times a week is recommended for optimal care. A longer, 2-hour soak is recommended every 2-3 weeks. If you are in a drier, hotter climate, more frequent watering or misting will likely be needed.
Signs to look for
You'll begin to notice that after watering, your plant's leaves will feel stiffer and full of water. When they're in need of water they'll be softer and lighter in color. Wrinkled or rolled leaves can be a sign of dehydration.
Pruning & maintenance of your air plants
Everyone needs a little grooming once in a while! It is normal for some of the lower leaves of your Tillandsias to dry out as the plant grows or acclimates to a new environment, and those leaves can be gently pulled right off of the plant. If the leaf tips have dried out, you can snip the dried tip off (try trimming at an angle to leave a natural-looking pointy tip), and the same can be done for the plant's roots. Don't worry about harming your plants during grooming--they'll regrow.
Tillandsias are tropical plants that usually live for several years and will bloom and produce flowers only one time during their lifetime. The flowers are striking and brilliantly colored, and the bloom period will last several days to many months, depending on the species. Different species bloom at different times, also depending on their care and environment. A plant will most likely go into bloom sometime between mid-winter and mid-summer.
Around a plant's bloom time, they'll produce offshoots, or "pups." You'll notice the pups have a separate and distinct center of their own, distinguishing them from the other leaves. Once the pup reaches at least one-third the size of the parent plant, the pup can be removed by gently pulling it apart from its parent. Hold both the parent and the pup at their bases and gently twist in a downward motion. You can also cut the plants apart using a clean razor blade, slicing as far down the pup stem as possible. Each pup will follow the life cycle by growing into a parent plant, blooming and producing pups of its own.