Air Plants (Tillandsia)
There are roughly 650 species of tillandsia, originating from Central and Southern America to around Mexica and the West Indies. They call the forests, mountains and deserts of these regions their home. Attaching themselves to rocks, trees and other structures, they survive without taking any nutrients from their hosts – a.k.a tillandsia are epiphytes.
Air plants are excellent air purifiers, and are even used to remove heavy metals from the air in contaminated areas. While that hopefully isn’t the case in your home, you can rest assured that your air plant is working away for you.
As these plants don’t live in soil, they take what they need from the air. They have trichomes along their leaves, which grab water and nutrients from their environment to sustain themselves. The fuzzier leaves have more trichomes because they evolved in the barer landscapes of the desert regions where the tillandsia required more contact points to harness the little available moisture and nutrients. As a result these kind can be watered less often and can tolerate more direct sunlight.
Most air plants only flower once in their lifetime, and afterwards produce pups which can be removed from the mother plant once they are about a third to half her size. These are the next generation of tillandsia, and can be displayed any which way you want!
The best water for air plants is dirty water – rain/ pond/ bird bath/ lake water is their favourite, but as this is not always available to everyone, use tap water that has been left out for 24 hours to let any chlorine dissipate. Don’t use distilled water, it’s no good to them.
Caring For Your Air Plant
In average conditions, a generous spraying of your air plants once a week is enough to water them. In very hot or dry conditions this needs to be increased depending on how hot or dry it is. Shake off any excess water that beads up when spraying your plants, and always make sure it has been able to dry out completely before it is watered again, otherwise it is likely to rot.
If your plant is really dry, you can either submerge them in a pot of water for a few hours, or run under a tap if that is not possible due to being stuck to something. Shake of excess water once you’re done, and allow them to dry before watering again, just maybe not as long this time!
Air plants love bright indirect or defused sunlight – so don’t place them where the sun will be directly on them as it can give them sunburn.
Your air plant might take a few weeks to settle into its new environment. Try moving it around the house or office to find the best position for it.
In the summer, your plant will benefit from going outside! Just make sure its in the shade, or dappled light is better. Just remember to bring it in before it goes below 8°C.
Air plants benefit from a specialist feed, applied weekly in spring and summer and fortnightly in autumn and winter. Even though it comes as a spray, it is not a substitute for watering.
Air plants need the air! Air plants in completely enclosed terrariums do not do well. Make sure the base of the plant can breathe otherwise your plant is likely to rot.