Air plants (Tillandsia) have become hugely popular. In recent years, these unique plants have made their way into homes as a decor staple. Just as their name suggests, they can live with their roots in the air, no soil required. People love them for their versatility because you can get very creative with displays when your plant is not rooted in the soil.
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We put together this ultimate Tillandsia care guide so you know how to best take care of them. In this guide, you will find air plant care tips and requirements, types of air plants as well as frequently asked questions.
Air Plant Care Overview
Air plants (Tillandsia) are incredibly unique and come in 450 different varieties. They are classified under the bromeliad family which covers a wide variety of 3,475 mainly tropical plant species — this means that air plants are related to pineapples! They live in different regions that range from the top of Argentina to the southern US. The two main types of air plants are xeric and mesic. Xeric Tillandsia live in desert climates and can survive with less water and more sun than their tropical counterparts (mesic Tillandsia).
Air plants latch their roots to trees, rocks and other plants and collect water that accumulates on their base. For example, in a tropical habitat, they live in the trees collecting water from humidity and water that pools in the trees’ branches. Due to their acclimation to the rainforest and warm desert weather, they prefer temperatures in the range of 50–90° F (10–32° C). Mesic Tillandsia prefer humid air while xeric Tillandsia prefer arid air. If you don’t live in an area that boasts their preferred conditions, no need to worry — there are ways to replicate that environment and air plants are fairly resilient.
They come in a large variety of sizes and colors. Air plant varieties range in size from two inches to seven feet. The varieties that are frequently found in stores are typically two to five inches in size. There are varieties that bloom flowers but this usually signals that the plant is near the end of its life cycle. Before air plants die they release pups (baby air plants) that grow up to be just like the original. See the propagation section to learn other ways to grow more air plants from the original seedling.
5 Types of Air Plants
In addition to their variance in size, they come in a vast variety of color combinations. You can find pastel green plants and other bright types that feature fiery reds, pinks and purples. As mentioned above there are two main air plant categories, xeric and mesic. Xeric air plants are characterized by muted silver and green color tones and a fuzzy texture. Mesic air plants have a smoother texture and brighter colors. Read on to learn about some of the most popular types of air plants.
Tillandsia cyanea (Pink Quill)
The pink quill air plant is named for its distinct bright pink feather-like bloom. Another thing that makes the pink quill plant unique is that it can grow in soil and does just as well being grown in either soil or in the air. The pretty pink quill will occasionally have flowers bloom on it, although the flowers only last a couple of days and the quill can only support about two flowers at a time.
Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss)
Spanish moss looks quite different from the other air plant varieties with its long stringy texture. In its natural environment, the plant drapes over tree branches, creating a gorgeous ethereal effect. Spanish moss isn’t Spanish. It got its nickname from French explorers who thought it looked like a Spanish Conquistador’s beard.
The bulbosa’s lanky bracts create a stark contrast to the large bulbous roots. If grown outdoors, this plant develops a symbiotic relationship with ants. The ants find shelter in the bulbs and the plant feeds on the ant’s waste. As an added bonus, this variety does well in low-light conditions. A downside of Tillandsia bulbosoa is that water can get trapped in the base easily and lead to root rot if it’s not dried properly after being watered.
Tillandsia aeranthos bergeri
This variety blooms every spring, revealing gorgeous pink and purple flowers. Tillandsia aeranthos bergeri grows pups very quickly, faster than other varieties, so it’s a great option for someone who loves to propagate their plants. It’s also a bigger air plant variety compared to other Tillandsia houseplant varieties, they can grow to about six to nine inches tall.
Tillandsia ionantha (fuego)
How to Care for an Air Plant
Air plant care may vary based on the species but for the most part, they have similar care requirements. Take special note of whether your air plant is xeric (desert-dwelling) or mesic (tropical-dwelling) as this will affect their care requirements. Read on to learn more about light, water, temperature preferences, toxicity, pests, problems, repotting and propagation.
How much light does an air plant need?: Air plants prefer bright, indirect light. They should be placed near a natural light source that receives light for most of the day. If the area you live in has higher humidity, the plant can take more light without getting too dried out. If you have a xeric air plant, it will be more tolerant of direct or bright sun.
Air plants can survive under an artificial light source. If you choose this option, your plants will need at least 12 hours of fluorescent light and be no further than three feet from the light.
How to water air plants: The amount of water that air plants need depends on the conditions they live in. Drier, hotter environments will result in the plant needing to be watered more often — more humid, cooler climates will require less. Mesic air plants typically need to be watered every week and xeric air plants every two weeks. The basic watering guidelines are as follows:
Soak your air plant’s roots in room temperature water for 10–15 minutes.
Flip them upside down (root side up) on a towel in sunlight and let them dry completely (usually for one to three hours).
ProTip: If your air plant hasn’t fully dried in three hours, then move it to a brighter area to make sure it dries. It could get root rot if stays wet longer than three hours.
Place your plant back and mist it one to two times a week (optional).
What temperature do air plants prefer?: Air plants prefer temperatures between 50–90° F (10–32° C). Luckily, they can still survive in temperatures outside of that range. They will be happiest in humid air which is why they thrive in sunny bathrooms where they can absorb the shower’s humidity. Some people try to replicate a humid environment by misting their air plants a couple of times a week.
Are air plants toxic?: Air plants are not toxic to humans, cats or dogs, so don’t worry if your furbabies get into your air plant collection. The plants may take a beating, though, so trim off any nibbled or broken leaves and continue care per usual.
Common air plant pests: Two pests that can affect air plants are scale insects and mealybugs. Scale insects attach themselves to the bottoms of leaves and feed off of the plant. These pests present as little scale-like bumps on the leaves. Mealybugs are tiny white bugs that also feed off of the plant. If your plant’s leaves turn yellow or fall off, check for a pest infestation.
If you suspect that your plant has an infestation, the most important thing to do is quarantine the plant. This will keep your healthy plants safe from the spread of the infestation. Consult a gardening expert to figure out the best treatment for your specific plant type and particular infestation case.
Common air plant problems: The problem that plagues air plants the most is root rot. This is caused by overwatering the plant or leaving it soaking in water for too long. Root rot presents as brown or blackened roots that are usually squishy to the touch. To avoid root rot, make sure to not overwater your plant. It helps to keep track of the watering schedule with plant care tracking sheets.
How to propagate an air plant: The best way to propagate an air plant is by using the plant’s pups. The pups are mini replicas of the parent plant that can be found at the base of the plant. All you need to do is use a sharp implement to remove the pup from the parent — be careful to not damage the pup when you remove it. Care for the pup like you would any other air plant and it will develop into a full-grown air plant.
“Repotting” air plants: Air plants are the easiest plants to move because they aren’t rooted in soil. When “repotting” your air plant just be careful not to bend and break its leaves or roots. Other than that just move your air plant to its new home and care for it as usual.
Common Air Plant Questions and Concerns
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions that air plant owners and prospective owners have about their plants. If you have any additional air plant queries, leave them for us in the comment section below!
Do Air Plants Purify Air?
Air plants remove carbon dioxide and some trace chemical pollutants but they aren’t as effective as other plants that purify the air. But some studies suggest that they can be effective in removing mercury and other toxins from the air.
Do Air Plants Grow Bigger?
If your air plant is a pup (baby air plant) then it will grow to full size depending on its species. As stated above, air plants range in size from two inches to seven feet so research your variety to find out more about how big it will grow. If you buy an air plant at a market it’s likely full grown.
Do Tillandsia Die After Flowering?
Unfortunately, when most air plant varieties bloom it means they are older in age and will soon die. On the bright side, before they die, air plants shed little pups that will grow to be the plant parent’s size.
Why Do My Air Plants Keep Dying?
Overwatering is the most common cause that kills air plants. If they are overwatered they can easily get root rot which will kill them. To avoid root rot, make sure your air plants dry within three hours after watering. The next most common cause is under-watering which the plant can usually recover from. See our tips below to revive an under-watered plant.
How Do You Revive an Air Plant?
If you’ve lightly under-watered your plant (your plant’s tips are turning brown or getting a slightly dry texture), give your plant an extra soak and resume a normal watering schedule. To revive a brown or very dry plant, follow the steps below:
Submerge the plant in lukewarm water.
Make sure the plant stays submerged by lightly weighing it down.
Move the container of water and plant to an area with bright light and a temperature range of 65–75°F (18–23°C).
Soak the plant for 12 hours.
Remove the plant and lightly shake off the excess water.
Let it air dry completely on a towel.
Use sterile scissors to trim off any dry leaves (1/4th inch from the base).
If it still shows signs of wilting three days after it was soaked, repeat the steps again, except only soak the plant for three to four hours this time around.
Air plants are great additions to your plant collection and they also make great gifts for a plant-loving friend. The smallest ones can be used in adorable air plant jewelry. Air plants are also perfect for unique decor displays and creative crafts, like air plant string art or DIY terrariums. Do you have a creative idea of how to use your air plant? Let us know in the comments below!