The unusual plant Tillandsia is native to Central and South America, the southern United States and the West indies. They live in diverse environments from equatorial tropical rain forests to high elevation in the Andes mountains. In Louisiana, Spanish Moss is a type of Tillandsia and finds its home on tree limbs, dangling in large bunches like wild unkempt hair cascading down the trunks. You’ll find most varieties clinging to trees or stuck in obscure niches of rock or sand, defying Mother Nature with their capability of getting all they need from the air around them, giving them the name airplants.
There are over 600 species of these evergreen, perennial flowering plants that are part of the family Bromeliaceae, more commonly known as bromeliads. Generally the thinner-leafed variety grow in rainy areas and thicker leafed ones in more drought environments.
Rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter are absorbed through trichomes, very fine outgrowths or “hairs” located on the leaves. Roots, if there are any on the plants, are mainly used as anchors.
You’ll find some Tillandsias bloom on a regular basis and provide stunning flowers in an abundance of vibrant colors, with some blooms lasting only a few weeks to all year long. The plants have a life cycle where one plant grows to maturity, blooms then dies. Anytime in between its life cycle, it can produce around 2 – 8 offsets, commonly known as pups.
To remove pups, they need to be 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the mother plant. Hold the mother and pup plant by their base and gently twist in a downward motion. Until the mother plant dies several years after blooming, she will continue to produce more pups.
Tillandsias are fun to keep and require a bit of attention when watering; yet are hardy enough to grow indoors with the right lighting and care.
The most wonderful thing about these plants is they are perfect for creating beautiful accents in the home or patio. Tillandsia shapes and colors bring interest and variety to a room and can cause a guest to take a second glance to wonder if the plant is real.
Since the plants do not require soil to live, simply placing them in jars filled with stones can add so much to the decor of the room. You can hang them in bunches from a basket outdoors. Or grab a gorgeous piece of wood and insert the plant. There are hundreds of ways to arrange these plants in the home.
CARING FOR A TILLANDSIA
They like light and grow best in bright indirect light, such as a by a window. Early morning or late afternoon direct sun is fine in mild climates. When the sunlight is weaker during winter months, these little plants can handle more direct sunlight. Artificial light can be used and a full spectrum fluorescent bulb is best set for 12 hours of light.
Water 1 – 2 times a week, depending on the type of weather. In a moist, cool and rainy climate, watering once a week is good. In a hot, dry, and windy climate, water every other day or more as needed. The tell-tale sign to underwatering is by the extreme curling of the natural concave curve of the leaves. To water, wet the plant thoroughly. Be sure to turn it upside down and gently shake it to release any water that might collect near the base. This can cause the airplant to rot.
There are several ways to water the plants. Under normal conditions when the temperature is neither too hot or too cold, soaking the plant in a bucket is not necessary and may cause the plants to rot from over watering. If a plant becomes severly dried out, soaking in a bucket overnight might revive it. Let it thoroughly dry before placing back in a container to avoid rotting.
Soaking in a bucket is not recommended for the following varieties: Xerographicas, Streptophyllas, and Magnusianas. Also do not soak in a bucket if the tillandsia is in bloom.
The type of water is very important. Never use distilled water and softened water is not good due to the salt content. Filtered water or tap water that has sat over night to dissipate the chlorine is good, as well as bottled water. You can even use aquarium water or pond water. Never leave the Tillandsia in standing water and it is best to water in the morning instead of night. At night, carbon dioxide is absorbed by the airplant and if it is wet, it cannot breathe very well.
Fertilizer is not necessary for its growth. But fertilizing will provide better blooms and make more pups. Feed your airplant a Bromeliad fertilizer with a ratio of 17-18-2. You can also use other water soluble fertilizer used at 1/4 strength. If using pond or aquarium water, do not add any fertilizer. The water already has a natural fertilizer. Too much fertilizer can burn the plant.