Have you ever seen those interesting creepy crawlies that try to pass for a fly on the wall?
You might see them dangling precariously off the edge of a book shelf or encased in a geometrically arranged glass globe kind of like this one. They have green, tentacle-like extensions that twist and curve, making them look like a sea creature that came up for air. These living creatures are not bugs. They are air plants!
Did we trick ya?
Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane? No, it’s an Air Plant
Part plant– part creature, air plants are fascinating in the way they look and behave. They are called air plants because they seem to thrive while hanging in the air and their roots have no real connection to soil. In the botanical world, they are known as Tillandsia.
They are classified as Epiphytes, which are plants that grow on other plants, but are not parasitic to the host plant. These perennial plants get their nutrients from the rain, air, dust and moss surrounding the host and they use their roots to attach themselves to things, rather than to absorb nutrients.
There are over 650 species of air plants that can be found naturally basking in the cracks of trees, shrubs and rocks, maybe we’ll list them all some where! Air plants thrive in forests, mountains and deserts, and have originally been discovered clinging to tree trunks in Mexico, Central and South America and the West Indies. They are closely related to Bromeliads and appear in different shapes and sizes. Don’t wait, get started on this air plant kit with everything you need!
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It’s All About the Look and Feel
Air plants are full of personality, and you can easily find one that matches yours! The ones with furry-looking or fuzzy silvery leaves are from dry climates and can handle long periods without water. Air plants with glossy leaves are from tropical rainforest and are not very drought-resistant.
Most air plants have thin, triangle shaped leaves that can either be rounded or long like a ponytail. There are tiny scales on the leaves called Trichomes that absorb water and nutrients from the air. Air plants only bloom once in their lifetime and most of them produce bright colored, funnel shaped flowers. Check out 5 popular air plants here!
Whether a Green Thumb or Brown Thumb, Air Plants are for All Thumbs
The greatest thing about these charming creatures is that they do not need you to fuss over them like other house plants. These low maintenance little beauties only need air, light and a little water to flourish.
Let There be Light
Air plants are lovers of warm weather, but they are not sun worshipers and they do not appreciate direct sunlight. They prefer air temperatures of between 50 °F to 90 °F (10 °C to 32 °C) and are terribly troubled by frost. There is a high possibility that your air plant will die if left in temperatures below 45 °F (7 °C).
If your air plant is dwelling in a glass globe like this, please do not place it directly on the window sill. Glass intensifies the heat and sunlight from outside, and can give your plant sunburn or dry it out completely. (Like a magnify glass beaming light!) They enjoy bright filtered light and they are content to hang around under fluorescent light bulbs.
Being air plants, they prosper in humid environments and cherish air circulation. A little breeze helps the plant to breath, but crazy winds will blow things out of proportion. Try and avoid housing your air plant under a fan or near an air conditioner vent.
They May Like Water, But They Are Not Good Swimmers
Like most succulents, air plants are not too enthusiastic about water, although they do need it in their diet. Spray misting on its own might leave your air plant hanging on to dear life, especially in the summer or if you live in areas with a dry atmospheric conditions. Some people think that using a spray bottle like this will suffice, but that’s far from the truth!
They need a good soaking bath once a week during the hot weather and every other week in winter. Air plants do not really have roots that can search for replacement water and their leaves do not store internal reserves like other succulents.
Try and avoid using distilled water or softened water for your plant bath time. They benefit more from tap water that has been left to sit overnight for the chlorine to evaporate. Air plants are partial to the essential nutrients found in water from a lake, pond or aquarium.
Bath time should be a fun time for your air plant. Either fill a sink or a wide bowl with water and let the roots of your air plant be submerged in the water with the leaves resting out of the water. A bowl like this would work perfectly, unless you have a ginormous air plant of course! Let the roots marinate overnight or for at least 3 hours. When bath time is over, take your air plant out of the water, turn it upside down and gently shake off excess water. Your plant should then be given 4 hours to air dry before putting it back in its home.
Air plants fancy a spot of fertilizer every now and then, especially just before blooming. Pond water or aquarium water acts like a natural fertilizer and helps to relieve distressed plants. Once a month, a little water based Bromeliad fertilizer can be added to the bath water (following the manufacturer’s instructions) to give your plant a little confidence boost.
Here’s a tillandsia fertilizer you can use straight from the bottle too if you’d like, it makes life much easier.
What’s All This Blooming Business?
As mentioned earlier, air plants only bloom once in their lifetime. They produce flowers at different times of the year depending on the species, and the blooms can last from a few days to a couple of weeks. There are some species that produce one delicate flower while others produce multiple flowers.
You can also find air plants that grow flowers on a bloom spike or inflorescence. The blooms will vary in color, ranging from brilliant blues to bright purples and yellows as well as delicate pinks and fiery reds and neon orange.
Caring for Mommy and ‘Pups’
After blooming, air plants produce at least 3 offsets from the mother plant that are called ‘pups’. These are new plants that form at the base of the mother plant. These pups can be separated from the mother and grown as individual plants or they can be left to form a clump, although the mother plant will eventually die after producing pups. If your idea is to create a clump of air plants, remove the mother plant gently when she dries up. If the leaves are still fleshy and soft, then she still has life in her. If she has passed on, then she will just break off easily.
The pups can be separated from the mother and transferred to their individual new homes when they are about 1/3 the size of the mother plant. With a sharp, clean knife or gardening scissors, you can cut off the pups downwards, but as close to the mother as possible. The pups can also be gently twisted away from the mother plant.
Air plants are versatile and can easily adapt to new environments. As an air plant parent, you can literally go nuts mounting your air plants on colorful glass, jagged rocks, creative corals, sea shells, wood planks, ceramics, even driftwood!
Trending interior designers have been creating jaw dropping air plant chandeliers using water proof glue, wires, fishing lines or twisty ties. Keep in mind that using copper wires or super glue to attach your air plant to its host will kill your plant. Try to use natural fibers to tie the plant and avoid stapling or nailing the leaves as this will crucify your plant. Here’s some inspiration for you to to get started!
If you are thinking of glass baubles for your air plant, then consider that size matters. Your plant should not be squashed in a glass prison but should have enough room to stretch and do some yoga. If the globe is too small for the plant, it will reduce air circulation causing the plant to retain moisture for longer, which is not good.
To maintain the beauty of your air plant, you may occasionally trim the roots and dry tips. (Here’s the trimmer we use for one of our office air plants, it’s very durable and sharp!) Dry tips are an indication that your plant is getting too much direct sunlight and you can tell your plant’s thirst level when the leaves start curling inwards. When misting, concentrate the nozzle of your spray bottle on the roots and not the leaves. Remember to shake off excess water!
Feel Good Inside and Out
Air plants will not only look pretty in your home but they also have health benefits. Scientists have proven that the air plant, Spanish Moss, can detect and absorb mercury.
By having one air plant for every three people in your home, you can eliminate toxins and reduce carbon dioxide by 50%, thus improving the air quality! No need for a air purifier right? The likelihood of sneezing and coughing also goes down as pollen particles get trapped in the plants’ trichomes and reduces allergic reactions.
Now that you know a little more about how to grow air plants, how about looking for one online or at your local farmers’ market? We would love to hear your experiences with these amazing creepy crawlies.
Want to start your own air plant or succulent garden but stuck on where to begin, our full article about 16 types of succulents might help you out on what type of plants you can get!
Have fun and happy planting, send us pics of your succulent garden too! ?