Visit any garden center now and you will find a wide range of air plants for sale. And almost every home decor store currently carries these low-maintenance plants with interesting and beautiful design features.
These tropical plants have even found their way into bridal bouquets and fresh-cut flower arrangements. Air plants are simply the houseplant darlings right now, especially for those who don’t have the requisite green thumb or hate the mess of potting soil around the house.
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But what are air plants? Air plants belong to the genus Tillandsia and are part of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), which includes pineapple, Spanish moss, orchids, and an array of colorful flowering tropical plants commonly known as bromeliads. These types of plants are some of the best houseplants for eliminating air pollution. There are over 500 species of air plants with a variety of leaf colors, textures, and flowers.
In nature, Tillandsia species are epiphytes, meaning they attach themselves to other plants or surfaces to support themselves without parasitizing the host plant. The roots of these plants function only as a means of physical support and attachment, not as a mechanism to absorb nutrients or moisture. Air plants depend on moisture from the atmosphere and contain specialized scale-like structures called trichomes on their foliage to trap moisture and dust, providing the plant with nutrients and water.
Air plants require little care
Air plants can be forgiving houseplants if they receive enough light and water. These plants prefer bright, indirect light provided by windows facing east or west. The indoor environment of most homes with limited amounts of direct sunlight appears to mimic the lighting conditions found where these plants grow naturally under the canopy of tall tropical plants and in rock outcrops and crevices.
Humidity can be provided to air plants by misting, rinsing, or soaking. A simple way to provide adequate humidity is to rinse these plants weekly under the kitchen faucet with lukewarm water, then spread them out on a paper towel to dry. If you keep air plants in a glass container or terrarium, be sure to let them dry completely after rinsing them before putting them back in the container. Good air circulation is important for the health of air plants.
Air plants will benefit from an application of a fertilizer formulated for use on bromeliads every two months. Simply rinse the foliage of air plants with a dilute solution of liquid bromeliad fertilizer.
Air plants only bloom once in a lifetime
Air plants flower only once in their lifetime. Their flowers come in a wide variety of shapes and colors ranging from white and yellow to pink, red and purple. After the air plants flower, they produce new plants called pups, which emerge from the base of the parent plant. Once these young have reached about a third of the size of the parent plant, they can be removed and grown as a separate plant. The young may also remain attached to the parent plant and form a clump as the parent plant dies.
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Incorporate air plants into the decoration
Because air plants don’t need soil, there are endless options for incorporating these plants into any type of home decor. Common decorating approaches are to hang them on the walls, hang them from the ceiling, or incorporate them into other design elements or collections.
It is common to incorporate these plants into displays featuring organic items such as driftwood, seashells, rocks, tree bark, or other plant matter. Air plants can also add an interesting touch to vine wreaths and dried flower arrangements.
All without a grain of soil to clean!
Mike Hogan is an associate professor at The Ohio State University and an educator at OSU Extension.