What is an air plant exactly? Air plants are becoming more and more popular. With their relative low maintenance, lack of soil requirement, and funky appearance, they have become a popular living decoration and conversation piece. Understanding what they are, how they work and the best ways to take advantage of their unique growing methods will bring a whole new genre of plants to your life! So the big question is…
What is an Air Plant Exactly?
Genus: Tillandsia L.
With over 500 species, they are often simply labeled Epiphytes.
Their native habitats are the jungles, mountain tops, and deserts of Central and South America, Mexico, the Southern United States and North America. In their native environments, air plants have hosts that provide them support. They get nourishment from the surrounding moisture and nutrients drifting through the air.
What do I do with my Air Plant?
There is no need for soil with air plants. In fact, their root systems do not actually draw in nutrients. Instead, their root systems are used to attach the plant to their supporting structure. This allows the air plant to grow in a wide range of locations and conditions that other plants wouldn’t be able to.
Air plants actually need a platform to start growing, but since they pull their nutrients from the surrounding air, they can be placed in a myriad of structures as long as it does not hold/retain water. Basically, they do not need a pot or container, and are therefore much more versatile than you’re average houseplant.
Air plants can be hung from strings, attached to decorative bowls or metal fixtures to give more sleek, modern looks a little pop of nature. Wherever they are placed, they are sure to be a conversation starter. They are wonderful for removing pollution from the air inside, and their lack of soil requirements make them a favorite for those who favor less mess, but still want their beauty and their functionality.
Light and Temperature Preferences
Air plants prefer bright, filtered light, and will not do well in direct sunlight. Their natural habitat is often under crevice canopy or in a rocky crevasse, so dappled, indirect light is the air plant’s happy place.
Air plants prefer warmer temperatures inside the home. They can be moved outdoors after the danger of frost is past. In general, the ideal temperature range for an air plant is between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Water and Feeding Requirements
Watering requirements can vary depending on the location of the plant. A humid-heavy environment, like a frequented shower or bathroom might require less attending than an end cap of a bookshelf in a study. In these humid-heavy environments, a good weekly misting might be the only requirement. Otherwise, submersion is recommended.
Allow the water to sit- preferably overnight, to reach room temperature and to allow for any chlorine to dissipate- before submerging the air plant or the leaf tips can start to turn brown. Gently submerge the air plant in the water for anywhere between 20 mins to an hour once a week. (If the plant lives in a darker, cooler environment, watering can be done every 2 weeks.) After submerging the plant, it is very important to gently remove any trapped water.
This can be accomplished by gently shaking the plant, or simply turning it upside-down for between 30 mins and 3 hours (depending on the size of the plant and how quickly it dries). This upending the plant allows for the plant to drain and keeps it from rotting. The plant needs more water when the leaves begin to curl and roll. The foliage will turn a dull color and the tips will brown.
Fertilizing air plants is not essential, but won’t hurt as long as it’s not over-done. Air plants are part of the bromeliad family, so the fertilizer for these types of plants will get the best results. Dilute a liquid bromeliad fertilizer to 1/4 strength and feed once a month.
Many species of air plants are actually endangered due to over collection, and therefore it is important to purchase nursery propagated ones. Air plants have 2 methods of propagation.
Air plants do put forth flowers. The flowers are typically brightly colored and small (usually less than 2 inches) and bloom in late winter and mid-summer. While these blooms might be an exciting and beautiful part of the life of the plant, seeds aren’t always a viable propagation option.
The seeds are similar to dandelions and other seeds that utilize the wind to be transported from one location to another. In order to produce their airborne seeds, they have to be cross-pollinated very well. This is very difficult to do indoors, but in their native habitat, it’s much more likely.
Flowering is the peak of the air plant’s life cycle. After this they will start to die off, but new plants called “pups” will begin to form at the base of the plant. These pups can be separated from the mother plant when they are about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the mother plant. Make sure to continue to water and feed the mother plant while the pups are growing!
Air Plants; A Mystery No Longer!
So while the question, “What is an air plant” may have been answered, there are always more questions to be discovered! Air plants might seem to defy the laws of gardening, but they are quite natural and an amazing example of the amazing variety our world has to offer!
Just when you thought you had heard of it all… here comes a plant that needs no soil, doesn’t use it’s roots to pull in nutrients, and literally gets watered by taking a bath once a week! Will the wonders never cease?!
(Thankfully…) No way!
What is an Air Plant? Now you Know!
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