All You Need To Know About Tillandsia Air Plants

No luck with houseplants or just want something new? Try an air plant! They don't need potting soil and require only minimal care. Tiny scales on their leaves, called trichomes, absorb water and nutrients directly from the air, and even help shade the plant from scorching sun. The plants' "roots" are used only for clinging and do not absorb water and nutrients like earthbound plants.

There are more than 650 types of air plants (Tillandsia spp.) This plant is almost unkillable, so it's perfect for gardeners who tend to. Air plants grow without dirt and come in all sizes and colours. Although air plants used to be rare greenery, these hardy plants have become popular in the past couple years, so you can find them at almost any garden center or even in the check-out line at the grocery store. There are also a number of online nurseries specializing in air plants.

Many air plants grow with strap shaped or slender triangle shaped leaves, and most have attractive tubular or funnel-shaped flowers.

Air plants are epiphytes, meaning plants that grow without dirt. Air plants attach themselves to rocks, trees, shrubs, or the ground with their roots and are native to the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America.

There are several types of air plants: Those with silver foliage tend to be the most drought-tolerant; greener plants dry out faster.

Decorating with Air Plants

Air plants, aka tillandsias, are perfect for craft projects, small-space living, and finally giving brown-thumb gardeners some bragging rights. Tuck them into shells and driftwood crevices, glass baubles and wire baskets, or superglue their roots to stones or wood. Place them amongst your larger houseplants, between the leaves or around the base. They make ideal companions for orchids, cactus and bromeliads. Or, just set them unadorned on a windowsill or sunny shelf.

Air Plant Light And Temperature Requirements

Although they love warm weather, most air plants need protection from full sun. If it's a type that grows naturally wild on trees, keep it in moist, partial shade. If it is a ground type, grow it indoors in bright, filtered light or outdoors in partial or dappled shade.

In order to thrive, air plants need bright, indirect light. Rooms with southern or eastern facing windows make good candidates, because these spaces will be brightly illuminated with sun for most of the day. Rooms with north-facing windows work well, too, as long as the plant is placed close to the window, and the window isn’t blocked by trees or a neighbouring apartment complex. Western light tends to come late in the day, and can be very hot and intense. Careful - you don’t want to fry your air plant!

As a general rule of thumb, the higher the humidity in your space, the more light is tolerated by the air plant. This means that if you’re putting your air plant where it will receive loads of light, you should plan to mist it more often - twice a week or even daily. A sunny bathroom makes a happy home for an air plant, because the humidity from your shower will take care of most plant misting for you.

Air Plants and Artificial Light

Many people ask us if they can place their air plant in an office or basement room where it won’t get any natural light. The answer is yes, but there are a few specific rules to follow to ensure your plant’s success.

Full spectrum (fluorescent) light is a must. Regular incandescent bulbs don’t emit the quality of light these plants need to photosynthesize. Your Tillandsia should be placed no further than 3 feet from the light source. Also if you’re going to use fluorescent light, the plants will need, at minimum, 12 hours per day.

If you live in a basement or want to have an air plant in your office, we recommend buying a special bulb for your plant setting it on a 12-hour timer, so your plant gets all the light it needs to survive.

Watering Air Plants

Watering an air plant is the trickiest piece of the air plant care puzzle. Some people swear by misting, others by soaking, and still others use a combination of both misting and soaking in their air plant care regimen.

In our experience, watering air plants is tricky because the needs of the plant vary dramatically with the space in which it is placed. The first step to watering your air plant is to evaluate your space. How much light is your plant receiving? What is the temperature in your home at this particular time of year? Is the space very dry (is your plant near a heater or fireplace?) Or is it very humid?

After you answer these questions, you can adapt the air plant watering regimen to suit your particular needs. Here’s what we recommend as a starting point:

Every one to two weeks, soak your air plant in room temperature tap water (or rain/pond water if you can find it) for 5-10 minutes.

After soaking gently shake excess water from your plant. Turn it upside down and place it on a towel in a bright space. This is very important! Air plants will quickly rot if they are allowed to stand in excess water

From the time soaking ends, the plant should be able to dry fully in no more than 3 hours. If your plant stays wet longer than this, it may rot. Try placing it in a brighter place with more air circulation to facilitate faster drying.

1-3 hours is the optimal drying time for your air plant after soaking.

Once a week, mist your plant thoroughly, so that the entire surface of the plant is moistened (but not so much that there is water dripping down into the plant).

The hotter and dryer the air (summer, early fall) the more you need to water. The cooler and more humid the air (winter and spring) the less water your air plant will need. Remember, though, that heaters and fireplaces dry the air!

Do all watering in the morning. Evening soaking or misting disrupts the plants ability to respire overnight, and extends drying time.

Signs of under-watering your air plants include the leaf tips turning brown or crispy. The natural concave shape of air plant leaves tends to become more exaggerated when under-watered.

Unfortunately, if your air plant has been over-watered, it’s often too late to save it. If the base of the plant turns brown or black, and leaves are falling out or off from the center, your plant has likely succumbed to rot.

Air plants are pretty easy going when it comes to their temperature. They do best between 50-90 degrees F. Ideally, overnight temperatures will be about 10 degrees cooler than daytime temperature.

Incorporating orchid or Bromeliad fertilizer into your watering regimen once or twice a month is a great way to keep your air plant happy. Just add a pinch to your water and proceed as usual. Fertilizing your air plant encourages it to blossom and reproduce 

Fuzzy leaves with feathery, white, silvery, and dusty coatings indicate xeric types that come from sunny, dry climates, where rainfall is less frequent. Their pronounced trichomes collect maximum water when it falls and hold it for use during dry periods. They need watering only once or twice a week and can tolerate more sun.

Smooth, glossy leaves are most common on mesic types that come from shaded, moist rain and cloud forests, where water is plentiful. They have less pronounced trichomes and less protection from drying out and hot sun. They need more frequent watering.

The best way to water your air plant depends on the plant, its location and your own preferences. Use room temperature tap or rainwater, but never softened water because the salt in it can damage your plants.

Choose the most convenient method for you and your plants:

Misting is perfect for plants inside globes or displays, and for people who like daily interaction with their plants. Mist three to seven times a week, depending on the type of plant, and try to wet all surfaces.

Dunking is good for plants that are attached to wood or freestanding, as well as those with dense or very curly leaves that are hard to mist thoroughly. Dip the whole plant briefly into a pan of water or a freshwater fish tank, or put under a running faucet. Use this method two to four times per week for mesic types and once a week for xeric types.

Soaking helps revive dry plants. Submerge the whole plant for 1 to 3 hours. Use this method once a week or after a period of neglect.

After watering, shake out the excess so that no standing water remains in the center. Let plants dry in a well-ventilated place so they don't remain wet. Water more frequently in air conditioning, hot weather and desert climates, and less frequently in cool, cloudy weather. 

Air Plant Life Cycle

Did you know that air plants flower once in their life? Depending on the species, these blossoms last from a few days to a few months, and can be a whole variety of beautiful bright colours, like pink, red and purple. Flowering is the peak of the air plant life cycle, but also marks the beginning of the plant’s old age - after it flowers, the plant will eventually die.

But don’t despair! Just before, during or after flowering, depending on the species, your air plant will reproduce by sending out 2-8 “pups”. These baby air plants, which start out very small, will eventually grow into their own mother plants. Pups can safely be separated from the mother plant when they’re about ⅓-½ its size. Careful not to remove them too early, as they’re actually receiving nutrients from the mother air plant! 

Styling Air Plants

Air plants look great alone as architectural elements or in an air plant terrarium. Place varieties such as Tillandsia aeranthos 'Amethyst', also called the rosy air plant, in a pot or against a container that complements or contrasts its pink flower spike.

Play off the spikiness of the foliage by grouping three Tillandsia ionantha and add a tiny toucan, parasol, or other tropical touches.

Air plants naturally suited to growing in trees can be lashed against a protected wooden post with translucent fishing monofilament and a bit of sphagnum moss to hold moisture. Tillandsia species also make fine companions on a branch with orchids because they like essentially the same conditions. Hanging air plants are a popular design element.


Tillandsia ionantha

Tillandsia ionantha, also known as the sky plant, is a bromeliad plant. This means that it grows in a tropical climate and has a short stem. Sky plants often bloom bright flowers toward the end of their life.

Tillandsia usneoides

Tillandsia usneoides, or Spanish moss, differs from other air plants in that the leaves hang rather than sprout up. In its natural environment, Spanish moss can be found draped over tree branches and emitting a fragrant scent.

Tillandsia caput-medusae

Tillandsia caput-medusae is also referenced as the head of Medusa due to its distinct shape. Its snake-like leaves spread horizontally like strands of hair. Tillandsia caput-medusae produces red or blue flowers in early summer. 

Tillandsia andreana

Tillandsia andreana is a species that originates from Columbia. Its leaves shoot out from all sides, growing to be three to four inches tall. Tillandsia andreana produces tubular flowers that bloom from the center of the plant.

Tillandsia xerographica

Tillandsia xerographica originates from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. It has a spherical shape and doesn’t need as much water as other varieties (so when it comes to watering, you should mist rather than soak it). Tillandsia xerographica slowly produce a spike that turns into a red or yellow flower.

Tillandsia maxima

Tillandsia maxima originate from Oaxaca, Mexico and therefore can handle more sun than other varieties. Its moss green leaves turn a coral colour before blooming a brilliant purple flower. They are able to produce multiple flowers at the same time.

Tillandsia cyanea

Tillandsia cyanea, also known as the pink quill plant, are treasured due to their bright pink quills and vibrant purple-blue flowers. Although this variety is still an epiphyte (which means it absorbs nutrients through leaves), it can also be grown in soil.

Tillandsia aeranthos

Tillandsia aeranthos have long spiky leaves and thrive in bright, indirect sunlight. They produce pink and blue flowers, which makes them popular house or office plants. Tillandsia aeranthos can grow to be up to nine inches in height.

Tillandsia bulbosa

Tillandsia bulbosa is named after its bulb-like appearance. It originates from Central America and thrives in humid conditions. If you live in a dry location, your plant will need to be misted every other day to thrive.

Tillandsia capitata

Tillandsia capitata peach is native to Mexico, Cuba, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. This  air plant thrives in humid conditions and can tolerate full sun. The leaves turn a peach color right before a purple flower blooms.

Tillandsia cotton candy 

Tillandsia cotton candy, also known as Tillandsia houston, is a hybrid air plant. It is a mix of tillandsia stricta and tillandsia recurvifolia. Tillandsia cotton candy forms pink, cotton candy coloured blooms.

Tillandsia didisticha

Tillandsia didisticha originates from South America and is known to grow larger than most air plants. It can reach up to a foot tall in its prime. It has muted green and pink leaves that produce a white flower.

Tillandsia fuchsii v. gracilis

Tillandsia fuchsii v. gracilis was formerly known as tillandsia argentea. It has light green leaves and produces a long pink stem that a bright purple flower blooms from. In their natural state, Tillandsia fuchsii grow in clumps.

Tillandsia funckiana

Tillandsia funckiana are unique air plants because their leaves grow like quills, all spiking in the same direction. They also curl in a distinct shape, adjusting based on their environment. When they are ready to bloom, the leaves will turn yellow and a neon orange flower will form.

Tillandsia ionantha

Tillandsia ionantha, also referred to as fuego, has a distinct red colour that makes it stand out. The leaves have an ombre pattern that start with moss green and transition into a vibrant red-pink colour. These colours make up for its small size, growing to be about one inch tall.

Tillandsia stricta

Tillandsia stricta, native to many countries in South America, is able to survive in many climates. It can grow in trees as well as on sand dunes. There are many stricta varieties, popular ones including stricta pink bronze (pink flower) and stricta midnight (dark, almost black colour).

 Tillandsia chiapensis

 Tillandsia chiapensis, native to Chiapas, Mexico, is able to grow in a variety of climates. It will thrive in full sun as well as partial shade. The tillandsia chiapensis grows up to five inches wide and produces pink and red blooms.

Fertilising Air Plants

A feed at least a few times a year is a good idea as it will give you a strong healthy Air Plant in the long term. You could use a specialist bromeliad, cactus or orchid feed, or just a regular houseplant fertiliser diluted to half strength (they don't need much).

The only catch is to avoid fertilizers that contain boron, copper or zinc as all three metals are toxic to the majority of Tillandsias, including Air Plants.

The feed can then be applied to the leaves in the mister spray or in the container of water if you're dunking / soaking your plant.

Repotting Air Plants

The wonderful trait of not having any sort of extensive root system means this is one of the very few houseplants that will never need repotting ever.

Propagating Air Plants

Air plants can be propagated by the seed it might produce at the end of its life, but this normally only works if you have multiple air plants in flower at once so they can pollinate one another. Additionally it needs specific requirements for germination to occur and also for the plants to survive into adulthood.

Instead it's much easier if you skip all that and wait for the flower spike to die off. Around this time offsets or "pups" will form around the base of the mother plant. You can leave them to form an attractive clump, or instead when they're almost a third of the size of the mother plant you can gently separate them and treat them as individual plants.

Speed of Growth

Offsets grow quite quickly to start with, but then everything slows down and this continues for the rest of the plant's life. Don't expect fast growth no matter what you do for your Tillandsia.

Height / Spread

The diversity available means the height and spread can differ a fair bit between plants. However Air Plants in the main are not large houseplants and they probably won't grow much bigger than what you have when you first buy them.

Air Plant Flowers

It takes many years, but Air Plants only flower once and when they do, the Mother Plant starts to lose it's vigour and will deteriorate before dying off.

During this die off period it will spend all it's energy producing as many "pups" or offsets as it can. Once grown to a fair size, they can be separated from the mother plant or left to form an attractive clump.

It all depends on the variety you have, but the blooms themselves can be very short lived only lasting a day or so, or they can stick around for a month or more. Regardless they're often striking, sometimes alien looking but somehow still pleasing to the eye.

Any more questions? Contact us and we'd be happy to help out


1 comment



Can you deliver in the U.S. I’d like to buy the Snake plant “Gold Dust”

Thank you

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