What Is An Air Plant? – What I Know About This Definition

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We have a confession to make—air plants aren’t succulents. But we want to share them with you anyway! They’re super easy to grow and maintain, just like succulents. They don’t require soil, so they’re the perfect no-mess houseplants!

Air plants look great in succulent arrangements and are some of the cutest. They have thin, ribbonlike leaves that grow in clusters, so we think they look like pom poms. Also, having air plants in your place is beneficial in many ways. For example, air plants can give you peace of mind, enhance the air quality and be a good decorative.

What Is An Air Plant?

So if air plants aren’t succulents, what are they? And why are they similar to succulents anyways?

Air plants, which are also called Tillandsia, are epiphytes. Epiphytes are a group of plants that grow on trees and other plants not necessarily soil. Some epiphytes you’re already familiar with are orchids, ferns, and mosses like Spanish moss.

Epiphytes aren’t parasitic, so they don’t adversely affect the trees they grow on. Since air plants are epiphytes, they don’t steal nutrients from their host plants—they derive those from the air, water, dead leaves, and debris.

References: Air Plants – RHS Gardening.

Most air plants absorb nutrients through their leaves since the primary purpose of their roots is to anchor them to other plants. How crazy is that?

Air plants have unique structures called trichomes that allow them to absorb nutrients. Trichomes are those white, fuzzy, hairlike structures on the leaves of air plants. They look like mold at first glance!

Don’t be fooled, though!

Trichomes are dead and living cells that swell up whenever they come into contact with water. As they swell, they stretch out and cover the whole leaf, which traps the water inside the plant. From there, the water gets absorbed into other cells and is utilized.

You may be wondering… how is this even possible? A plant that doesn’t need soil to survive and lives off the air? That’s crazy talk.

When we first heard about air plants, we were skeptical too! But the more we learned about them (from this great book), the more we realized that how they grow makes sense given their environment. Most air plants are native to tropical rainforests that compete for sunlight and water. A dense, thick canopy of trees in these rainforests prevents sunlight and water from reaching the ground.

Tillandsia adapted to grow on trees so that they didn’t have to compete with all the plants on the ground for sunlight and nutrients. They grow high up so they’re closer to sunlight, rain, and nutrients from the dead leaves that fall from the canopy. Pretty genius, huh?

How Do You Plant Air Plants?

Most people don’t have giant trees growing in their houses, so they plant their air plants in glass terrariums, hanging metal planters, and even sea urchin shells. Or, you can grow Tillandsia on driftwood, but they may have trouble sticking independently. The most important thing to remember is that your air plants should not be planted in soil. If you do, your air plants might rot! Instead, you can layer sand, rocks, and moss in their terrarium or planter.

More guides and ideas are here:

Everything you need to know about air plants

Explore The Vast World Of Air Plant With Succulent City

We will talk a little bit about the two types of Tillandsia—mesic and xeric.

  • Xeric Tillandsia are a lot like succulents—they’re good at soaking up water because they’re native to hot, dry climates like the desert. Since they have many trichomes that can soak up water effectively like a sponge, xeric types don’t need to be watered as often as mesic plants.
  • Mesic Tillandsia, on the other hand, is native to humid tropical rainforests. Since water is more readily available there than in the desert, they didn’t develop as many trichomes as xeric plants. Since your home isn’t a hot, steamy rainforest with lots of water vapor for your mesic plants to soak up, you’ll need to water them more often!

Since the water needs of these two plants are different, knowing which type you have is essential. You can tell if a plant is mesic or xeric by looking at its leaves. If it’s covered with white, fuzzy hairs, then it’s probably a Xeric Tillandsia. If it has smooth leaves without many fuzzy trichomes, then it’s probably a mesic plant.

As far as I know, there are 650 different Tillandsia plants. However, on SucculentCity.com, I will mention these 56 air plants, which I find most people search for. Make sure you didn’t miss any of them!

Feel free to share if you find this article helpful. Also, here are my recommendations for your next read:

Succulent City chief editor


Richard | Editor-in-chief at Succulent City

Hey everyone! I’m Richard. Welcome to my blog, which is all about succulents, cacti, and a bit about air plants. Ten years back, in 2013, I began my journey with succulents. It started as a simple hobby, crafting and selling charming succulent-themed pins and decorations. But as time passed, my fascination with these remarkable plants grew, and I gained extensive knowledge about them. Therefore, Succulent City is the blog as you see it is now. Enjoy your visit and happly planting!

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