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What Are Air Plants?
Air plants are members of the Bromeliad family and Tillandsia genus. Most Tillandsia air plants are small species that absorb moisture from the air. They are native to the rainforests of Mexico, Central America and South America, and parts of the southern United States like Florida.
Air plants are epiphytes, which are plants that grow on the surface of other plants and extract moisture from air, rain, and standing water instead of the soil. Epiphytes include everything from Spanish moss to orchids to trichomes, but when home gardeners refer to air plants, they are generally speaking of small indoor plants such as Tillandsia streptophylla, Tillandsia capitata, and Tillandsia brachycaulos.
What Are the Best Conditions for Growing Air Plants?
Air plants thrive as indoor plants provided that you situate them in environments mimicking their natural environment. Air plants grow natively in all sorts of climates, from the highlands of Guatemala to the rainforest of Belize to the rocky cliffs of Tierra del Fuego in South America. This means you have many options for creating a hospitable air plant environment in your own home.
When it comes to direct sunlight, different species of air plants have different needs. Plants that naturally grow out in the open thrive on the bright light that comes from direct sun. For plants native to dense rainforests, indirect light may be more appropriate than full sun. To ensure your air plants get enough light, hang them in a west-facing window which provides strong light that may not be quite as intense as the bright light from a south-facing window.
7 Tips for Growing Air Plants
Air plants are low-maintenance since they live without soil and store excess water in their leaves, much like succulents. This makes air plants popular with DIY home decorators. To grow air plants in your own home, consider the following air plant care tips:
- Mist regularly. Water your air plants by misting the leaves. Use a spray bottle filled with tap water for easy-care misting.
- Grow air plants in hanging planters. Since air plants don’t require soil, you don’t have to grow them in traditional pots. Instead, consider purchasing hanging wire planters or pendants for your air plants. The Tillandsia xerographica air plant, which naturally grows in tree tops, can thrive hanging indoors.
- Grow air plants in terrariums. Most air plants do well in glass terrariums, including Tillandsia ionantha air plants (also known as sky plants). Simply place a piece of organic material, like driftwood, inside the terrarium on which the air plants can anchor themselves. Note, however, that air plants are not parasitic; they can also grow on top of healthy plants without damaging them in any way.
- Provide good air circulation. Ensure that your air plants have airflow, but do not place them under heating or air conditioning vents.
- Ensure that your air plants get ultraviolet light. Either hang your air plants in a window or use an artificial light that produces UV rays.
- Fertilize occasionally. During growing season (spring and summer), consider fertilizing your air plants with bromeliad fertilizer, available in most garden centers.
- Propagate your air plants. Air plants reproduce by creating offsets or pups—small plants that grow from the base of the mother plant. Moisten both the mother plant and offsets before separating, then gently remove the small air plants.
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