Tillandsia – or ‘airplants’ as they are frequently called – are a group of epiphytic bromeliads, found in the woodlands and mountains of South and Central America, Mexico and the southern part of the United States. There are about 400 different species with a huge variety of colored leaves and blooms. One of the smallest varieties, found throughout the Southern United States is the plant we know as ‘Spanish Moss’ (Tillandsia usneoides)
Tillandsia will thrive--as the common name implies--on nothing but air (trichomes on the surface of the leaves allow them to take up air-borne nutrients and moisture) and because of this they are frequently being sold attached to all kinds of objects and ornaments. No soil, no watering (although they like a regular misting) and therefore ideally suited for indoor spaces as well as out.
If you want to place them indoors, they will be an attractive addition to your kitchen on bathrooms (again, for the humidity of the air generally found in these places) and if you can provide full spectrum light they will perform best.
Outside they like a bright but generally shaded position, but if they get frequent watering the silver-leafed varieties will even tolerate full sun. The cooler nights of late fall here in Southwest Florida will prompt a blooming cycle. They are tropical plants and therefore like to stay above 50 degrees although a few cooler nights will not harm them.
This plant absorbs its nutrients from the air during the night time hours so it is recommended to water or mist during the morning hours, since the absorption of nutrients is impaired when the plant is wet.
Any water soluble fertilizer at half strength will promote a healthy plant and encourage it to bloom.
The plants have a single life cycle, and will form new plants (pups). If you simply keep the dead material cleaned out of your arrangement it should continue to look fresh and healthy with the new plants growing and maturing all the time.
In my Florida ‘lanai' I keep a number of quirky objects with airplants attached to them, and you will find these for sale at many garden centers. However, it is very easy to make your own fun or artistic arrangements with them. The plants are slow growing, so any arrangement is not likely to outgrow its ‘container' soon. The plants will grow any which way you position them, right way up, upside down, sideways, so let your imagination take over: Mount them on driftwood, in shells, fun little pots, unusually shaped rocks, basically anything that will appeal to you. You can mount them with glue, (I use ‘Liquid Nail' and hot glue works well too), wire, staples, twist ties, etc. Just be careful to not place them IN anything that will hold water, since the plants will quickly rot if left in standing water.
I first saw this interesting ball hanging in a neighbor's yard and she generously gave one to me. It is a ball made of chicken wire crumpled together; the airplants are attached with fishing line. They quickly fill the spaces between them to form a solid globe. It's just starting to bloom in mid-November.
A simple arrangement of a Tillandsia grouping on a piece of cork. Lovely blooms!
Tillandsia in a conch shell.
I really like this original arrangement of a number of thick branches attached to a hanging yard ornament, with a variety of small air plants glued on to them.
Shell fridge magnets!
This is a loosely designed wreath made by attaching a twig (I have not been able to ascertain what type of twig...) around a thin metal ring. It is one of my favorite Tillandsia ornaments.
Nothing contrived here; nature itself planted this Tillandsia on the side of my orchid basket!
Want to find out more about Tillandsia or Bromeliads in general? Become a Dave's Garden member and visit the Bromeliad and Tropical Plants forums!
For books on Tillandsia check out our 'Bookworm' Or do a search in Plantfiles to learn more about these plants.
All pictures are mine, except the shells (with permission from airplantcity.com) and the branch arrangement which is from the public domain.
Dutch by birth but widely travelled since my late teens. Married for 27 years with a son in college, and living in sunny Southwest Florida, I now call myself 'semi-retired' so that I can justify spending all waking hours in the pursuit of growing blooming tropical plants, most specifically Plumeria.