Botanical Basics: Tillandsia

Tillandsia (commonly known as air plants), are one of the easiest plant to keep around your home. Tillandsia are members of the Bromeliad family, and have grass-like leaves that are often quite alien in appearance. They can be found in deserts, forests, and mountains throughout the Americas. Like orchids and some ferns, these plants are epiphytes, meaning they survive by absorbing nutrients from water and the surrounding environment rather than soil. Unlike typical house plants, the roots of a tillandsia plant are primarily used as a support, attaching the plant to a surface or another plant. Tillandsia are great plants for landscaped terrariums, vases, and even alone on a table as décor. Although they don’t need much, giving your plant the proper care can result in a thriving, blooming plant that can add a touch of green to nearly any part of your home.

Tillandsia FAQs

My air plants just need air, right?

Sorry, but not quite. Although these plants need minimal attention to survive, they will need air, light, and occasional watering. But don’t panic, we’ll take you through it.

How much light does my plant need?

Air plants should be kept where they'll receive bright, indirect sunlight. If your plant will be in a spot with more direct light, you will probably need to water them more frequently to keep them hydrated.

How often do I water my plant?

Although tillandsia can survive for long periods of drought, like your other houseplants they will eventually die without water. The good news is that these plants are very forgiving, so don't need to worry too much if you forget a week.

Your plants should be watered by misting with a spray bottle once a week. A longer, 15-20 minute soak is recommended every 2-3 weeks. To soak your plants, simply dunk them in a bowl full of water, or hold them under running water for a few minutes. Gently shake the plants to remove any excess water from the base and the leaves, as pooled water with promote rot. A plant in bloom should be misted rather than submerged in water to avoid damaging the delicate flowers.

If your plants are in a hot, dry area, or a spot with lots of direct light, you will need to water them more frequently. One way to gauge how your plant is doing is to notice how the plant's leaves look after watering- they should will feel a bit stiffer because they are full of water. When the plant needs watering, the leaves will feel softer and appear lighter in color. If your plant's leaves start to wrinkle or roll, it's probably been too long since your last watering.

What temperature should I keep my plants at?

Air plants generally do well in warm weather, somewhere between 50-90 degrees. Luckily for us, Hawaii stays in that range, so unless you turn your A/C to sub-artic temperatures, your plant should be fine.

Ugh, so much work. Do I need to fertilize too?

You don’t have to fertilize your plant, but doing so may promote growth & blooming. You can use a Bromeliad fertilizer or a diluted houseplant fertilizer once a month.

Can I propagate my tillandsia?

You sure can! Like succulents, propagating your tillandsia is remarkably easy to do. Around the time a plant blooms, you will start to see little plants pop up, known as "pups." When the pup reaches at least one-third the size of the parent plant, you can remove the pup by gently pulling it apart from the parent. You can then mount the pup or put it in a terrarium as you would any other tillandsia.

I’ve seen air plants mounted on boards and sea shells, can I mount my plant?

You can certainly mount your tillandsia onto another surface for display, with a few considerations. First, remember that your plant will need water, so whatever you mount the plant onto will be getting wet too- choose a base that is water-resistant. Secondly, you want to glue the base of the plant (nearest to the roots) to ensure the best results. Use a waterproof glue, as your typical white glue & even hot glue will break down with repeated watering.

Can I keep my air plant in a container?

Almost any vessel will do just fine as a home for your air plant, although they do best with some air circulation, so avoid enclosed containers. These plants look great in miniature landscaped terrariums, check out our shop for inspiration!

More Botanical Basics: Orchids, Succulents    More Tillandsia: In the Shop, Tillandsia Terrarium, Wilder Magazine