Spotlight: Tillandsias

Feb23rd 2012

Tillandsias, or air plants, are truly amazing. They belong to a family of plants called ephyphites, which are plants that grow on trees, rocks and other objects. They are not parasitic, depending on the host only for support. Because water and nutrients are absorbed through specially adapted scales on the leaves (called tricomes), they do not need soil in order to survive, the roots are used as anchors only.

I have long been fascinated by evolution, and in the plant world this is one of my favorite adaptations. Did you know that most orchids are ephyphitic? There are also types of ferns and even cactus which also have this unique feature. That Christmas cactus left over from the holidays, believe or not it is native to the jungles of South America! But I digress...

Air plants are super easy to grow in your home, and they make a wonderful first plant for a child. I have a 7 year old nephew who assists me in the garden and his favorite part is watering. Air plants only need bright, filtered light and will need to be misted several times a week, and soaked once a week. This just means filling the sink or any type of container with tepid water and completely submerge the plant for a few minutes. If you are able use purified water that is a plus. The variety ’xerographica‘ is an exception as it is native to a more arid part of South America and needs less water to survive. This is a great option for frequent travelers.

The options for displaying your air plant are pretty diverse — here are some of my favorites:

  • a decorative plate with or without river stones
  • attaching to a piece of driftwood or other found branch
  • a hanging glass orb with moss, stones, pinecones, etc.
  • a vessel, glass or ceramic, filled with the above items
  • a terrarium

A special note about terrariums. Please remember that air plants don't like wet feet, so if you are going to use them in a terrarium... have them sitting on top of the soil, not in it. Air plants should never sit in water for long periods of time, so if you are displaying them in any vessel that does not have drainage, be sure that water doesn't accumulate in it.

You will discover that there are many different types of air plants. Colors vary from a shiny, bright green to soft gray and fuzzy. They come in all sizes too! I have see some the size of a silver dollar and as large as a mallet.

Air plants add fun and interest whenever they are displayed. Great in the home or office, and they make a great all occasion gift!

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