Walk into any garden center or nursery and you’ll notice a variety of ‘air plants’ for sale. Many retailers will boast that they require no care to flourish. In reality, air plants (technically known as Tillandsia) are easy to care for, but they do require water, nutrients, and light to survive. The thing that sets these remarkable plants apart and makes them seem unique is that their roots are exposed and soil-free. They are basically Mother Nature’s own hydroponic marvel.
Air Plants are Epiphytes
Air plants are known as epiphytes or tillandsia which is a plant that grows on another plant. There are over 650 types of air plants. Each one is unique looking and fully adapted to survive in its chosen growth location. Tillandsia plants are found throughout Mexico, Central America, South America, and parts of the Southern half of the United States. Their ability to grow on a ‘host’ tree or surface may sound parasitic but it’s not because the air plant never harms the tree or shrub it is growing upon and instead just hitches it to ride through life. Bromeliads and orchids also act like air plants by attaching themselves to the trunks of trees.
How Air Plants Survive
Air plants have unique vessels, known as trichomes, that are located on their foliage. The trichomes can absorb nutrients and water from the air. The air plant does not use its roots for anything but to hold onto a surface such as a tree or shrub. The design of plant species is wonderfully unique with long triangle-shaped leaves and tubular or funnel-shaped flowers which are all formed to make use of any available water.
Care of Air Plants
Air plants are easy to maintain but they are not completely ‘care-free’. Like any plant, they require light, air circulation, water, and nutrients. They are incredibly happy with only minimal watering and nutrients though. You can easily keep these plants alive by using a hydroponic nutrient solution and water. Simply lightly mist the plant daily with the formula and it will thrive. Some people take the air plants and submerge them in a water and nutrient bath once a week to abstain from the daily misting.
All air plants adore light so make sure you put them in an area of high light that replicates where they would be growing outdoors on a tree. Many people like to pair the Tillandsia with orchids because they both require similar care and light and will easily complement each other.
You can lash the air plant on the side of bark, a piece of wood, driftwood or some other surface using fishing line until the roots take hold. Place a bit of sphagnum moss around the plant to encourage moisture retention like it would find naturally on a tree in the rainforest.