If you’re incredibly good at dealing death to houseplants, but love the look of something living in your home other than you, air plants may be right up your alley. Tillandsias aren’t the touchy feely types. They prefer a hands off approach. No dirt, no repotting. Ever. Too good to be true, right?
Air plants are jungle plants with approximately 550 species belonging to the genus. You won’t find them growing in the soil beneath the jungle canopy. Instead, they prefer the crotches of trees where they use their roots to anchor onto the bark and absorb nutrients from the air through hairs (trichomes) on their leaves. As epiphytes, they grow on other plants but aren’t parasitic and do no harm to their host. Their undemanding nature allows them to transition easily indoors and spruce up any table or shelf.
I’ve suspended several air plants in glass containers above my kitchen sink. Containers can be pricey depending on where you buy them. I found these for $2 each at Marshalls. With fine gauge wire from the craft store, I attached the containers to the curtain rod above the window. The air plants get plenty of light here in this southern exposure. Come summer, I adjust the blinds to prevent them from baking in the hot sun.
Unfortunately, air plants flower only once in their lifetime. When this one opened shortly after Halloween, I expected petals to extend out from the center shaft. I’m a tillandsia flower neophyte and this was uncharted water for me until I realized the flower was as strange as the plant and this WAS the flower fully opened.
The flower signifies the beginning of the end in terms of the longevity of the plant. While it’s uncertain how long she’ll hang around, she puts her energy into new pups that emerge at her base. Eventually she peters out, but not before she leaves behind her progeny.
Baths: The Secret To Success
With another air plant on the verge of flowering, I owe the success to weekly water baths. Simply remove the plant from wherever you’re displaying it and let it hang out in a bowl of water for an hour. I soak all seven of mine together before giving them a good shake to remove excess water. When it’s available, I use water from my rain barrel. Otherwise it’s tap water that sits out for 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate before introducing the air plants. Chlorine can cause the leaf tips to brown.
After soaking, I let them hang out on a towel upside down to allow excess water to drain away from the plant’s center. Water accumulation in this area is the kiss of the death as the plant will rot out.
Brown leaves aren’t uncommon and a gentle pull to remove them is all that’s needed.
Before returning them to the glass containers, I add a little water to increase the humidity. Sometimes leaves will look slightly curled. It’s a good indicator that the plant needs another bath. During the summer, you may have to bathe them more frequently, but I’ve found that once-a-week year round works for me.
Do you grow air plants? If so, how do you display them?
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