The notion of a plant living simply on the air around it is one of the captivating aspects of what we know as air plants, those 500+ varieties of the genus Tillandsia. And while these beauties do still need light and water in addition to air, they indeed are among the easiest plants you can add to your garden or home.
Part of the much larger Bromeliad family, Tillandsias offer a modest range of sizes, shapes and colorations, and a level of flexibility that make them perfectly suited to be attached to or tucked into planters, shells, driftwood or any number of other objects. A key distinction is that air plants do not require soil, therefore freeing them from the need for conventional planters. They are considered epiphytic, a category of plants that grow naturally and symbiotically on rocky outcroppings and tree branches in their native tropical and sub-tropical geographies. Provide them with dappled sun, good air flow and adequate moisture, and they will reward you eventually with delicate and striking blooms. Blooming is usually followed by production of new plantlets that eventually overtake the slowly declining health of the mother plant, just as with the larger Bromeliad family.
Caring for your air plants
In order to thrive, air plants need bright, diffused light, such as can be provided by pool screening or tree branches. Elsewise, place them facing north or east, receiving no direct afternoon sun. If placed outside, natural humidity will help, especially during the rainy season. Misting with a basic spray bottle a few times a week is advised, especially for plants placed indoors. The leaves of the plant absorb all the necessary moisture and nutrients. What appears as root at the bottom are just the mechanism by which these plants attach themselves in nature.
A monthly or weekly underwater dunking for 30-60 minutes also helps, followed by shaking out excess moisture and good airing out, to reduce chance of rot. Whether dunking or misting, try to use rainwater, or else allow tap water to sit out for 1-2 days so chemicals evaporate. Do not use distilled water.
In general, think about the conditions in which these plants grow naturally, and mimic those as closely as possible. If you take care to look around you when outdoors, you will likely spot a member of this family of plants growing naturally. For example, the common “Spanish Moss” (in fact neither Spanish nor moss) is an air plant. You’ll see air plants amongst tree and shrub branches, often in a ball shape, especially in parks, and along waterways. These air plants do no harm to the plants in which they grow naturally, so please don’t disturb them.
Ready to buy some?
To find a good local selection of the most decorative types of air plants, you need go no further than the Emerald Air Plant stand at the Saturday Punta Gorda Farmer’s Market, where Greg, the knowledgeable owner, will happily provide targeted advice and information about the many lovely air plants he sells. Also check out Becky’s Garden Shoppe on Elliott Street in Punta Gorda. Both sources provide both the plants and mounting ideas.
Having learned air plant care needs, use your creativity to display them. It is quite simple to display them on almost any item. Basic craft glue won’t harm them or use fishing line to hang or attach. Whether tucked loosely into a bare spot in a planter with other plants or featured in some of the creative ways you see in the accompanying photos, air plants bring a graceful touch of nature to indoor and outdoor living spaces.