Greenhouse Canada

Air plants catching the consumer eye

June 3, 2013  By Canadian Garden Centre & Nursery

June 3, 2013, Urbana, IL — Green thumbs are going wild for some unusual-looking plants that have been turning up in some unusual places, but caring for them means throwing out everything they thought they knew about plants.

Air plants, formally known as tillandsia, are members of the bromeliad family and include over 500 different species that make very attractive houseplants. These days you can often find them inside glass globes or laid on a bed of rocks.

“These plants are catching the eye of many indoor gardeners because they appear to offer a lot of interesting colour and texture while seeming to require very minimal care. It’s almost as if they survive on the air itself because you never see them in a pot of soil. And that is exactly why they are often referred to as air plants,” said Greg Stack of the University of Illinois Extension.


Most tillandsia use their root systems to attach themselves to trees and rocks. The plants absorb moisture and nutrients through small scales on their leaves, which give the plants their unique silver or grey appearance.

“With the popularity of these plants, they are starting to appear just about everywhere, enticing shoppers to buy a few as ‘fashionable accessories’ for decorating,” said Stack.

But despite their tough appearances, these plants still need some attention to keep them happy and healthy. The three most important requirements for keeping tillandsia in good condition are bright light—but not direct sun – good air circulation, and water.

“Indoors, a south, east, or west window provides an ideal location for allowing the plant to receive bright filtered light. During the summer, they enjoy being outside hung from a tree or other locations where they can receive light shade and protection from direct sun,” said Stack.

Watering is the next critical requirement. Indoor tillandsia like to receive water via misting to the point of runoff. Plants should be watered two to four times per week throughout the summer months. In the winter, when indoor growing conditions tend to be drier, they may require water more often.

Stack recommended watching the leaves to determine if the plant is receiving enough water. “If they start to curl or roll, that indicates dehydration. If that happens, submerge the plant in water overnight to rehydrate and then shake the excess water from the plant before returning it to its display location. The green leaf forms need a little bit more moisture than the grey leaf types."

Good air circulation helps dry the plant between watering and prevents disease.

"Remember that tillandsia are epiphytic and don't need a pot full of soil to grow in, so that opens up a whole lot of possibilities of how you might want to display them," said Stack.

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