Tillandsia "air plant" Catching the Eye of Indoor Gardeners
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 15, 2013
URBANA – Unusual-looking
plants are showing up in some very unusual places, said a University of
Illinois Extension horticulture educator.
"These plants look like tufts of grass, and they are often
seen inside of glass globes suspended from little stands on the tops of tables
and desks; attached to pieces of bark, cork or wood; suspended from ceilings on
fishing line; or laid on a bed of rocks in a shallow dish," said Greg Stack
of U of I Extension.
"These plants are catching the eye of many indoor gardeners
because they appear to offer a lot of interesting color and texture while
seeming to require very minimal care. It's almost as if they survive on
the air itself because you never see them in a pot of soil. And that is
exactly why they are often referred to as air plants," he said.
Air plants, whose formal name is Tillandsia, are members of
the bromeliad family and comprise over 500 different species that actually make
very attractive houseplants. Most tillandsia use their root systems to attach
themselves to trees and rocks and absorb needed moisture and nutrients through
their leaves. This makes them epiphytes, plants that use something else
for support while not really harming what it is they are attached to, Stack
explained. Absorption occurs through small scales on their leaves, and these
scales give the plants their unique silver or gray appearance.
"With the popularity of these plants, they are starting to
appear just about everywhere, enticing shoppers to buy a few as 'fashionable
accessories' for decorating," he said. "Despite their carefree appearance, they
still require some attention if you want to keep them happy and healthy."
The three most important requirements for keeping
tillandsias in good condition are bright light—but not direct sun, good air
circulation, and water, Stack said.
"Indoors, a south, east, or west window provides an ideal
location for allowing the plant to receive bright filtered light. During
the summer, they enjoy being outside hung from a tree or other locations where
they can receive light shade and protection from direct sun," Stack added.
Watering is the next critical requirement. "Indoors
tillandsias like to receive water about two to four times a week in the form of
very heavy misting to the point of runoff. That interval may shorten a bit
especially during the winter months when indoor conditions tend to become drier
during heating season. Allow the plant to dry between waterings," he explained.
Stack recommended watching the leaves to determine if the
plant is receiving enough water.
"If they start to curl or roll, that indicates
dehydration. If that happens, submerge the plant in water overnight to
rehydrate and then shake the excess water from the plant before returning it to
its display location. The green leaf forms need a little bit more moisture than
the gray leaf types," he said.
Tillandsias also like good air circulation as the air helps
dry the plant between watering and prevents disease.
While not absolutely necessary, a light application of
fertilizer about once a month will keep plants vigorous, Stack said. However,
he cautioned that too much fertilizer can harm them. "Use a liquid type of
fertilizer with an analysis such as 10-5-5 and dilute it to about one-quarter
the suggested dosage. This is then applied to the plant in the normal watering
If blooms do occur, Stack described them as "exotic and
beautiful and lasting from days to months," he said. "While blooms are
not guaranteed, the normal bloom cycle is in late winter and midsummer."
As for displaying these plants, Stack said they can be
enjoyed in nearly any type of growing environment. "Remember that tillandsias
are epiphytic and don't need a pot full of soil to grow in so that opens up a
whole lot of possibilities of how you might want to display them," he
"They are often mounted onto something or hung individually
in clusters with fishing line from the ceiling. Given this method of display
and the fact that they are exotic looking to begin with, a grouping of
tillandsia can almost make you think that you are looking at a living coral
reef," Stack added.
"Whatever you choose to use as a mount, be sure that the
material does not hold water," Stack said. "Tillandsia can easily be
mounted to cork, wood, rocks, bark or any other solid surface, using any
commercially available adhesive such as liquid nails or hot glue. They
can also be tied to the mount using wire.
"The next time you run across plants laid out on a table
that look like good fake plants, look closer," he said. "They are probably
tillandsia, and they just might be the plant for you given their very minimal
demands for care."
Source: Greg Stack, Extension Horticulturist, email@example.com