Air plants have an almost-otherworldly feel to them, and the way they grow further supports this. Without the need for soil, they’ve become quite popular over the past few years. What’s more, they display an exotic beauty as they hang from our ceilings. Air plants also have leaves that remind us of some sea creatures and may even look alien-like. Plus, they’re highly versatile and relatively easy to grow. In this article, we’ve compiled a Complete Guide to Air Plants, including how to care for them, information on specific species, where to buy them, and how you can enjoy their company in your home.
What are Air Plants?
Tillandsia (commonly known as air plants) are epiphytes, meaning they grow primarily on other plants. You’ll find them typically on tree branches, and they belong to a genus of more than 650 different species. Air plants are native to the forests, deserts, and mountains of northern Mexico, southeastern United States, Argentina, and the Caribbean. They usually have slender, triangular leaves that grow in a rosette pattern.
These plants tend to be drought-tolerant and mostly come with silver foliage. However, you can also find colorful variants, such as the Tillandsia maxima, which have coral-colored leaves. Most species can also produce beautiful, funnel-shaped, or tubular flowers as well.
How to Care for Air Plants
While they may seem intimidating at first, air plants are low-maintenance plants once you learn their needs. While there’s no need to pot them, they still have demands. These requirements include giving them the right amount of water and light. Additionally, providing them with the proper temperatures, just as you would for other indoor plants, is critical.
Once your plants produce flowers, you’ll know you’re doing a good job of growing them. When the flower dries out, snip it off so your plant can keep growing. Eventually, it will give you more flowers for you to enjoy.
Air plants don’t typically have long roots like other plants. Instead, their roots are shorter and help them hold onto whatever surface is nearby. In their native habitats, air plants generally get what they need from the environment. For example, their native lands provide plenty of rainfall and humidity. So, in your home, make sure to give your plants a drink once a week. You can water some types every two weeks, but make sure to research before bringing one home. Anyone caring for air plants for the first time should keep an eye on them for signs of being thirsty.
- Begin watering your plants by submerging them in the sink with enough room-temperature water to cover them.
- Soak them for about 30 minutes, then place them upside down on a towel to allow them to drain.
- Once they’re dry, simply put them back in their spot.
- You can also apply mist every other day to keep them looking lively. This technique is especially effective during winter, and when the humidity levels in your home are low.
- A humidifier might be needed in cases where the air in your home is often dry.
First things first: don’t give your air plants direct sunlight. In their native environment, many of these plants live up in the shady and sheltered canopy of trees. They will do well if you put them out of direct sunlight but in a brightly lit spot. A few species, however, can handle less intense morning sunlight. So, again, check specifics for your air plant type before placing them in your home.
- Air plants love being in warm weather, so be sure to keep watch of the thermostat.
- Avoid keeping your plants in an environment colder than 45° F, as they will die in such temperatures.
- If you live in an area with warm or tropical climates, you can grow your air plant outdoors, all-year-round. Just be sure to keep it dry during winter.
A Word About Style
Air plants can look fabulous on their own or in groups, where you can showcase different varieties together. You can place them inside terrariums, or they can be attached to anything from driftwood to magnets. So, create your own unique displays. All you need to do is secure them with some fine fishing line or a dab of hot glue. Because these plants don’t need soil, you can display them in just about any way you can imagine. So, get creative and go crazy with these suggestions:
- Air plants can be great companions for orchids, as they like the same conditions. You can combine the two plants by placing air plants on a branch next to orchid plants.
- Consider purchasing glass globes or looking for glass specially made for hanging air plants.
- You can also use containers that complement or contrast with the colorful leaves of some varieties.
- People use some types of air plants as hanging mobiles or plant wreaths. Or you can even make a terrarium with a beach theme to celebrate their resemblance to sea creatures.
Popular Air Plant Varieties
Once upon a time, we rarely saw air plants outside their natural environments. These days, they’ve become trendy additions to our homes, and people use them in a variety of ways. They’re now also available at most garden centers as well as online retailers. Here are 5 of the most popular air plants for 2021:
The Tillandsia ionantha, also known as the sky plant, is a native of Mexico and Central America. This variant is one of the most popular air plants to use in terrarium design. It’s a hearty type with a unique spiky shape and comes in different sizes. These cute, round plants feature layers of pretty, silvery-green leaves and have the most beautiful violet flowers upon blooming. The top of this plant will also turn bright red when in bloom. The ionantha is one of the best air plants for beginners due to its easy-going nature.
The xerographica is a large, slow-growing air plant found naturally in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. You can quickly identify this large plant by its striking shape. The silvery-gray leaves are broad at the base and taper to an end with an attractive spherical rosette. This plant can reach more than 3 feet in diameter and over 3 feet high when it flowers. It’s also able to withstand less water and more sun than most air plants. When in bloom, the petals of its tubular flowers display a bright red to purple coloration which will last months. All these unique characteristics lead many to call xerographica the queen of air plants.
You can find stricta air plants naturally growing in various environments and climates. Its adaptable nature makes it an easy plant to start with if you’re a beginner. Its bright green leaves identify the stricta, and it delivers stunning pink flowers when in bloom. You’ll mostly find them in their native homes in Trinidad and South America.
The brachycaulos is another one of the most common air plants for indoor gardening. Its popularity is primarily because of its ability to mix with other varieties easily. You can quickly tell it apart from the other species on this list. It produces stunning shades of red and purple when exposed to enough light. It will also bloom several purple flowers from the center of the plant. Its native home is in Venezuela, Mexico, and Central America.
The aeranthos is another beginner-friendly plant that hails from Uruguay, Paraguay, Southern Brazil, and Argentina. It has a very fresh, clean, green coloration with stiff leaves that are sharp to the touch. This variety is perfect for showcasing to your visitors at home, as it will bloom stunning purple and pink flowers. Additionally, it will readily give you pups for you to display and adore.
The Perfect Containers for Air Plants
Hanging Glass Containers
These are excellent ways to display your air plants. Glass allows you to see right inside and get a full view of your plant. The tear-shaped design lets your plant sit comfortably inside while producing a beautiful display of leaves and vines. You can often find them as part of a set, and they come in various sizes.
Wall-Mounted Plant Containers
These glass containers also allow you to showcase your plants. Most can serve as either a wall mount or a decoration for tables, desks, and other surfaces. Wall-mounted containers typically have tiny holes at the back to help mount them easily. They’re a great way to display your air plants without any hassles. You can also use them to hold other items, such as tealight candles, seashells, flowers, and more.
Ceramic Plant Containers
These beautifully designed, geometric containers can come as a wall-mount or as a hanging decoration to snuggly fit air plants. They can also carry other plants, such as cacti, succulents, and other small species. These containers are very light, making them an ideal addition to any location in your home. They’ll compliment any home interior so that you can show off your plants in style.
Drawbacks of Air Plants
1. Some air plants only flower once in their lifetime.
Depending on the kind of air plant you have, it may only bloom once. The flowers can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. They may produce a variety of stunning, bright colors. However, flowering is the peak of the life cycle of an air plant. Shortly after they flower, many air plants will eventually die.
2. Overwatering and Underwatering
Air plants don’t take watering mistakes very well. At its worst, overwatering will make the plant lose its leaves. It may even fall apart from its center and succumb to rot. On the other hand, underwatering your air plant will give you a display of brown, dead leaves.
3. Temperature Sensitivity
Extreme changes in temperatures can shock the growth of air plants. In fact, they’re so sensitive to the cold that their leaves will begin to rot. This is especially true if they remain wet or exposed to cold temperatures for too long. Keep your plants between 68°- 85° F, avoid putting them near cooling vents, and water them only when needed.
Where Can I Buy Air Plants?
Often you can purchase air plants at local stores. However, they can be a bit of a hit and miss. If you live in a big city, you might even find them at Target. On the other hand, if you live in a small town, your best bet is to look online. Air plants take well to be being shipped and are typically delivered in good condition. The downside to having them delivered is that you don’t get to pick them yourself. In any case, air plants are a beautiful addition to any home and can be lots of fun to grow!