Air plants can be confusing. A plant that doesn’t need to be planted? In fact, it doesn’t want to be planted? Or watered much? Really?
They’re funny little things, members of the tillandsia genus. And while they’ve been in vogue for a number of years, there’s still a lot of mystery about that. Where are their roots? Why don’t they need to be watered? Should they be submerged in water or misted?
Well, let’s clear up some of those mysteries and let you in on the secrets of the wonderfully strange air plant.
What’s with the “air” thing?
Most air plants are epiphytes, meaning “upon a plant.” They aren’t parasitic, they just make their lives upon other plants or surfaces, including trees, telephone wires, your windowsill, etc. Spanish moss, for example, is an epiphytic member of the air plant fam. Just about all the air plants you’ll find in stores are epiphytes, but some members of the tillandsia family are also aerophytes, meaning they have a minimal root system.
Epiphytic air plants do still have roots but they don’t function in the way we expect, not like the roots of a tomato plant or an oak tree. Air plant roots can function as traction devices in the wild. The air plants in your home aren’t in need of their roots in the same way, so they can be trimmed gently if you find them unsightly.
Out in the wild, air plants may make their homes on tree branches, rocks, walls or telephone wires. They might even grow flowers and will be pollinated by moths, hummingbirds and bats!
Air plants that you might see in stores nowadays include tillandsia ionantha and tillandsia xerographica. Xerographica, which we have at Locaflora, needs less water and more sun than other tillandsia. They may not need to be soaked weekly.
What do air plants want?
A tale of air plant misfortune: Our shop assistant, Ema’s, mom had an air plant that died. But it didn’t have to be that way. It was sitting on Ema’s mom’s kitchen windowsill, just hanging out, living it’s best air plant life. But Ema’s grandfather could not get his head around the idea of a plant that didn’t want to be regularly watered. So whenever he was in Ema’s mom’s house he would secretly water the air plant. One thing led to another, and the air plant died from overwatering. To this day, Ema’s grandfather still thinks it was from underwatering. He could not except the strange reality of the air plant.
Don’t be like Ema’s grandfather, in this case. (In other cases, fine. He’s got a great sweater collection, for example.)
Here’s the lowdown on what air plants need.
Air plants need bright light to do their best, so an east or west facing window would be good. (We’ll have a post soon with more info about lighting.)
Air plants can be soaked about once a week in tepid water for about 30 minutes. Then drain them upside down for a short time and set them back in their growing area. Some of them would like distilled water, some of them are fine with tap water so long as the chemical content isn’t high. Air plants love humid hair, so a kitchen or bathroom might suit them well.
In the wild, these plants grow naturally on an angle, thus water never sits in the middle of the plant. If water does sit in the middle of the plant, it may start to rot and fall apart. While you could let it chill on your window sill, there are also holders (hanging and stationary) that’ll allow you to elevate and angle your air plant. We have some in the shop!