September 24, 2011

Under-Designed Air Plants

 Bromelliads, or "Air Plants"( specifically, those Tillandsia species which are so commonly used as ornamental, yet disposable plants by many designers, installation artists). They have many interesting forms, and thus, they appeal to the hipster in all of us, but they are also nice when treated in a less ornamental way - like these in my my collection. Treat these mini bromeliads like real plants, and they can be long-lived, as well as blooming plants.
First, start with your container. They may be called "air plants" but don't be mislead into believing that they live off of the air - they require moisture, almost constantly.  A Brooklyn apartment is not quite the same as forest in Florida, with 100% humidity, so find the most humid spot in your home, which will most likely be over your kitchen sink, or in the bathroom. 

Second, they do need light. In the wild, these species grow on tree branches in live trees, so although you may think that they like shade, the truth is that they require light, even sunshine, especially in the winter. 

Third, don 't think they they will live in a terrarium, for here is where the name "air plant" has some truth to it - Tillandsia require fresh air, think - tropical, moist breezes. The atmosphere in a glass dome may be humid, but it is also a stagnant air mass, a breeding zone for fungus. Air plants like things simple, but precise - tropical downpours, brisk trade winds to dry off their leaves, and a bird dropping or a dead ant every now and then. 
Here is how I achieve the greatest success with these beautiful  and unusual plants. I have many extra orchid baskets, wooden lath baskets that are inexpensive and always hanging around the greenhouse. Sometimes, we tend to over-design things, and although Tillandsia or "Air Plants" might look awesome when arranged in a grid pattern on a wall in a sleek, hip boutique hotel in New York City, the truth is, they will soon perish without the moist air and buoyant breezes they requires to survive.
 Spanish moss ( a Tilandsia species too) helps to create a moist atmosphere around these rootless plants. I wrap moist sphagnum moss around the stumpy end of each plant, and then set it into a wooden basket. The potted baskets are then  hung in the greenhouse, and most essentially, brought outdoors for the summer, where they spend a vacation on the shady side of the deck enjoying summer downpours, thundershowers and yes, even a nutritious bird poop or two ( never three, and always canary sized).


  1. I’ve been successfully growing a variety of air plants myself and have included several beautifully blooming orchids in the midst.

    My plants thrive for years because I set them over humidity trays which I continually fill with fresh water. I also have growing lamps which provide extra lighting and running fans for air circulation.

  2. Air plants are expensive but, it is a good idea. It can saves space.

  3. Wonderful blog post thanks a lot for sharing :-)

  4. I never thought of growing them under lights Hanna, that extra light in the winter makes alot of sense - I've thought of adding some for some South African bulbs.

  5. Though it may seem counterintuitive, many terrariums are not 100% enclosed spaces, meaning that air plants can survive in at least a semi-terrarium environment ;-)


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