Visit any garden center right now and you will find an extensive array of air plants for sale. And nearly every home decor store currently includes these low-maintenance plants boasting exciting and beautiful design features.
These tropical plants have even found their way into bridal bouquets and fresh-cut flower arrangements. Air plants are quite simply the darlings of indoor plantscaping right now, especially for those who lack the requisite green thumb or abhor the mess of potting soil in the house.
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But just what are air plants? Air plants are in the Tillandsia genus and are members of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), which includes pineapple, Spanish moss, orchids and an array of colorful flowering tropical plants commonly called bromeliads. These types of plants are some of the best houseplants for removing pollution from the air. There are more than 500 species of air plants with a variety of leaf colors, textures, and flowers.
In nature, species of Tillandsia are epiphytes, meaning that they attach to other plants or surfaces for support without parasitizing the host plant. The roots of these plants function solely as a means of physical support and attachment, not as a mechanism to absorb nutrients or moisture. Air plants rely on moisture in 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 indoor plants if provided with adequate amounts of light and water. These plants prefer bright, indirect light provided by east- or west-facing windows. The indoor environment of most homes with limited amounts of direct sunlight seem to mimic the light conditions found where these plants grow naturally under the canopy of larger tropical plants and in outcroppings and crevices of rocks.
Moisture can be provided to air plants by misting, rinsing or soaking. A simple way to provide adequate moisture is to rinse these plants weekly under the kitchen faucet with tepid water and then lay 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 before placing them back into the container. Good air circulation is important to the health of air plants.
Air plants will benefit from an application of a fertilizer formulated for use on bromeliads every other month. Simply rinse the foliage of air plants with a diluted solution of liquid bromeliad fertilizer.
Air plants flower but once in a lifetime
Air plants flower just once during their lifetime. Their flowers come in a great variety of shapes and colors ranging from white and yellows to pinks, reds and purple. After air plants flower, they produce new plants called pups, which emerge from the base of the mother plant. Once these pups become about a third of the size of the mother plant, they can be removed and grown as a separate plant. The pups can also remain attached to the mother plant and will form a clump as the mother plant dies.
Incorporate air plants into decorating
Because air plants do not require soil, there are endless options for incorporating these plants into any type of interior decorating. Common decorating approaches include hanging them on walls, suspending them from the ceiling, or incorporating them with 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 materials. Air plants can also add an interesting touch to grapevine wreaths and dried flower arrangements.
All without a speck of potting soil to clean up!
Mike Hogan is an associate professor at Ohio State University and an educator at the OSU Extension.