What is an air plant?
As their name indicates, air plants do not need soil to grow. They attach themselves to trees and other larger plant species. In the wild they have small root systems which help anchor them to the host plant. Plants which attach themselves to other plants are called epiphytes (like orchids).
Air plants are from Mexico and South America. They are surprisingly widespread and can be found in rainforests as well as more arid regions. You can tell if an air plant comes from a warm, dry part of the world as they are a greyish-green colour. This is because air plants have tiny scales on them call trichomes, the function of trichomes is to absorb moisture from the air. The more trichomes a plant has, the lighter in colour it will be. An arid air plant example includes the Tillandsia Xerographica.
Air plants that live in moist tropical climates have less trichomes, due to the abundance of moisture in the air and therefore have a wider spectrum of more vivid green colours (and even pinks and reds). An example of this type of air plant is a Tillandsia Ionantha.
What are the different air plants type?
There are around 600 different type of Tillandsia air plants in the world according to Wikipedia. The most common being:
How fast do air plants grow?
Air plants don’t grow very quickly, the seeds take a couple of months to germinate and then in between 4 to 8 years to mature. The first couple of years is the slowest stage of growth. Patience is key when growing air plants.
What are the largest air plants?
One of the largest air plants you can find is the Tillandsia Xerographica (see photo below), it can grow up to 60 cm width. A truly impressive air plant.
What about air plants life span?
It varies but in general air plant live in between 2 to 8 years. Air plants are perennials, which means that they live for more than two years. Their life expectancy will be influenced by the Tillandsia species and growth conditions.
How to care for an air plant in the UK?
As they would typically grow in the dappled shade under trees in the wild, it’s best to keep them out of direct sunlight in your home. A bright room where they can get indirect sunlight is perfect.
Air plants are, for most part, hardy plants that can tolerate a bit of neglect, which is why they make popular houseplants for beginners and experts alike. If you find you can't stick to your regular watering schedule you can mist them to keep them going until the next bath.
A typical air plants care routine is to give me a bath of water in a bowl of water every two week. Rainwater is ideal but tap water is fine too. Leave them to soak for up to half an hour before taking them out and gently shaking them to remove any excess water. Pop them on a towel upside down until they are dry and then they're ready to go back on display. Following each watering, Tillandsias should be given enough light and air circulation to dry in 4 hours or less. Do not keep plants constantly wet or moist.
It really depends on where you live but in the UK air plants are best suited to being houseplants. The changeable seasons and cold outdoor temperatures are not suitable for them. Air plants will not tolerate temperatures below 12 degrees Celsius.
What do you do with air plant pups?
You can separate the pups once the size gets to 25% of their mother plant. Then using a sharp kitchen knife or good pair of garden scissors, place the mother air plant on its side and cut away the pups. You now have a new air plant in your collection with very little effort.
Can you use air plant fertilizer?
Yes, you can, but not too often, we recommend once a month using an air plant fertilizer like the one we sell in our shop. Fertilizers are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The fertilisation is an addition to the weekly watering required to maintain the Tillandsia healthy. Don’t over fertilise the air plant overwise you may damage the leaves and potentially kill the plant. The fertiliser we sell comes pre-mixed in a spray bottle, but you also have the option to spray their bath water and feed them that way. A good time to fertilize your air plant as well would be blooming time.
Is my air plant dead?
This occur when the water collected in the crown of the air plant stays in the centre of the plant and some of the leaves turn brown or black. Poor air circulation may also increase the risk of rotting. The base of the plant will become rotten, and the plant will most likely fall apart. You can check for rot by giving the base of the plant a gentle squeeze. If the plant feels spongy inside, then it is rotten. A healthy plant's base should be firm. Air plants that have been overwatered cannot be salvaged unfortunately.
Infrequent watering, high temperatures and low relative humidity all play a part in the dehydration of your air plants. Tillandsia can sometimes be revived by soaking overnight, but extended use of hard water instead of rainwater can also cause dehydration. Underwatering will usually result in some tell-tale brown tips at the end of the leaves to start with. Without further care, the plant will eventually turn a grey or brown colour and shrivel/fall apart. If you can salvage the plant and rescue it with moisture before it's too late, then any dry crispy outer leaves that are a bit unsightly can gently be pulled away from the base to leave the healthy leaves.
Brown or white leaves:
Direct sunlight and low relative humidity do create the wrong environment. To get around this problem, your Air plants will need more shading and humidity around the plant.
Loss of lower leaves is the result of stress such as from a change of conditions or water stress. This can also be an indication of rot (see above).
Have some fun and test your Tillandsia knowledge with our air plants quiz.
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