I first saw air plants while visiting The Gardens, a local nursery that has a knack for bringing in unique home and garden finds. My initial question, I learned later, was quite typical: Are these real?
It wasn’t just their sea creature-like appearance that seemed so strange; it was the fact that they were conspicuously lacking something that usually grounds other plants: soil! Instead of being tucked safely away in dirt, their roots were exposed. The plants were gently placed in shallow boxes and pots without soil or water.
It was love at first sight. I soon was gathering as much information as I could about these strange beauties. Air plants is the common name for Tillandsia, a member of the Bromeliad family, and there are hundreds of different types. Tillandsia absorb nutrients through their leaves, and their roots can attach to just about anything: rocks, trees, canopies, other plants, even the ground.
Their structured leaves, unique shapes, and even brightly-colored blooms make them perfect for home design and decor. You can set them in a hanging vase, place them on a tray, even attach them to a garland! This display was a gift from my in-laws: The vases, each filled with light snow and an air plant, were hung from a red dogwood branch with fuzzy birds perched on top.
While it seems they need little more than the air they breathe, air plants do need attention to live and thrive. Here are the basic care tips I received from The Gardens. They’ve worked so well that a couple of my plants have even bloomed!
- Provide your air plants with sunlight but be careful of too much direct sun.
- Make sure they have good air circulation.
- For best results, soak the air plants a few times a week for half an hour. Let them dry completely within four hours time. (I soak mine in the sink–just dunk the whole thing in–, then place in a sunny windowsill or on the mantel to dry.)
- Add a liquid fertilizer once a month to the soak.
Once you have the basics down, you can learn how to propagate your plants, grow them outside, and even attach them to trees. For now, I’m quite happy with my air plants bringing a bit of the natural world indoors.