AIR PLANTS - TILLANDSIA
A Potted History:
The Tillandsia air plant, a captivating member of the Bromeliad family, has a rich history rooted in the Americas. European explorers like Carl Linnaeus documented it in the 18th century although Native peoples, like the Aztecs, are likely to have observed and used it centuries before. As European interest in botany grew during the 18th and 19th centuries, Tillandsias became prized specimens in European greenhouses and botanical gardens. Today, they're popular as houseplants In recent decades, Tillandsias have experienced a surge in popularity as houseplants and decorative items. Their minimal care requirements, striking aesthetics, and adaptability to a variety of settings have made them a favourite among plant enthusiasts and interior decorators. While air plants are resilient and adaptable, some species face conservation challenges due to habitat loss and over-collection. Efforts to protect their natural habitats and promote sustainable cultivation practices are ongoing.
Top Tips & Useful Information:
Care Difficulty - Easy
Tillandsias, commonly known as air plants, are fascinating and easy-to-care-for plants. Follow these top tips to keep them healthy and thriving:
Water & Humidity:
- Misting: Mist the foliage lightly twice a week throughout the year. During autumn and winter, avoid saturating the central cubbyholes to prevent 'heart rot.'
- Submersion: Every two weeks during the growing season and every three to four weeks in autumn and winter, submerge the entire plant in water for around half an hour.
- Drying: After submersion, gently shake the plant upside down and place it on a tissue for a few hours to remove trapped moisture.
- Humidity: Provide a bright, indirect setting with good air circulation. Avoid locations within three meters of an operating radiator to prevent drying out.
Basal Offsets (Pups): In spring, when the pups reach half the size of the mother plant, they can be separated. This can be done by gently twisting them at the joint. For more details on propagation, scroll down to the 'Propagation' section.
Air plants are perfect for simple-themed terrariums or displays due to their adaptability to closed environments, providing humidity and reliable temperatures.
Location & Light:
Air plants are epiphytic and naturally grow in semi-shaded areas, often nestled in the moist nooks of jungle trees. They benefit from protection against direct sunlight, poor air circulation, and water-logging.
Place them in a bright, indirect location, such as below a grow light, within two meters of a north-facing window, or in the canopy of another plant near a light source. Avoid surface-resting specimens to reduce the risk of 'heart rot.'
During the dormancy period in autumn and winter, provide an hour of sunlight to prevent drying while the days are shorter. Move them back to their original location when spring returns to avoid sun-scorch and dehydration.
Feed your air plants monthly with either 'Bromeliad' or 'Orchid' feed at half strength to provide essential nutrients. Avoid using houseplant-labeled fertilizers to prevent foliar burns.
Mix half the recommended strength into a non-metal container of water for hydration. You can also use 'Air Plant Mists' to provide nutrients.
- Brown Tips: Brown tips can indicate under-watering or insufficient humidity, especially during the colder months when heaters dry the air.
- Curled Yellow Leaves and Brown Tips: These are signs of too little water and/or over-exposure to the sun. Air plants thrive in bright, indirect settings.
- Over-Watering: Over-watering can lead to 'heart rot.' Signs of over-watering may not be evident until the plant is submerged again, resulting in a mushy base. If only a few leaves are affected, they can be removed.
- Leaf Discoloration: Normal leaf discoloration occurs after the flowering period, signaling the end of blooming. If the plant starts changing color from green, it may indicate the onset of flowering.
Tillandsias prefer temperatures between 12°C (54°F) and 30°C (86°F). They can be grown outdoors in summer if temperatures remain above 12°C (54°F) but should avoid direct sunlight. Watch for pests when reintroducing them indoors.
The size of air plants varies by species, with smaller specimens reaching up to 10cm in height and width and larger ones like T. xerographica growing up to 40cm in width and height.
Pruning & Maintenance:
Remove spent flowers to improve the plant's appearance. Prune the whole bract once it wilts. Avoid removing brown basal leaves, as this can affect stability and strength.
Air plants can be propagated via seed or basal offset division. For basal offsets, ensure they are at least half the size of the mother plant before separating them.
Air plants flower only once, typically lasting around a week. The bract's color varies from purple to yellow, pink, or red, attracting airborne pollinators. Color changes may also occur on the foliage during blooming.
Pests & Diseases:
Air plants are generally pest-resistant, but 'heart rot' can occur if they are kept too moist, especially in dark or poorly ventilated locations.
Air plants are not known to be poisonous to pets or humans. Ingesting large quantities may lead to vomiting, nausea, and loss of appetite.