person holding tillandsia

Air Plant 101: Epiphyte Explanation and Air Plant Care

Ruby Flora is a plant shop that promotes communication and conversation surrounding houseplants and their care. I seek to educate and inspire all the plant lovers who enter through my doors. 

What is an air plant?
First up, let's discuss what exactly an air plant is. Air plants are actually called Tillandsia, which happens to be part of the Bromeliad family. They are also known as Epiphytes, as they do not need soil to grow and live. The term "epiphyte” refers to a growth form, not necessarily a type of plant. Air plants are found in jungles, deserts and some mountain tops. If you've ever been to Florida, New Orleans or Savannah and saw Spanish moss hanging in the trees, those are air plants!

Air plants use a host, such as a tree or mossy bark, as a method of support while growing. They receive nutrition within the moisture and fibers drifting in the air or dripping down from the treetops. Roots are apparent on air plants sometimes as a means of attaching itself to the supporting object, please don't confuse those as needing soil to live!

air plants

Do air plants need water?
The number one thing to keeping air plants healthy is water! Yes, you still need to water air plants. My method for watering air plants goes as follows: usually every Sunday I dunk them in a container of dirty water large enough to fully submerge them and let them soak in there for 30 or so minutes. I then take them out and give them a pretty vigorous shake so water doesn't sit in any cracks and crevices. After they soak they need to dry out fully. Place them in a bright spot upside down with good air circulation for an hour or so to completely dry. This is key to a healthy plant moving forward, if the air plant is not fully dried out the wetness may cause the air plant to rot from the inside. A quick and easy way to tell if your air plant is thirsty is if the color is draining from the plant.

Do they need bright light?
Air plants are fairly resilient when it comes to sunlight. Think of their natural habitat, they grow under trees so try and replicate that style of environment when bringing air plants home. They can be placed in a very sunny window but if you do that make sure your misting your air plant often as well as fully submerging them. They'll dry out very fast in a super sunny window. Bright but filtered is a great way to describe their light requirement. 

Air Plants Decor

How can air plants be displayed?
Air Plants could be placed just about anywhere. They may be adhered to driftwood, added next to a picture frame, placed stylishly on a bookshelf, hanging out of seashells, or on top of pretty pottery! Air plants such as Spanish moss can be hung anywhere and it really gives whatever you're hanging it from a boho textured look.

Do I need to fertilize air plants?
The quick answer is no, but the more in-depth answer is, if you want to! It definitely won't hurt them, and the NPK levels of air plant fertilizer are quite low so don't worry about going overboard. Fertilizing will keep them in tip top shape and should promote blooming and reproduction, but once again not super necessary for their livelihood.

Issue: Soft or dark center
Cause: Plant is rotting

Issue: Shriveled leaves/ losing color
Cause: Low humidity/ under watered

Issue: Air plant is brown when submerged in water
Cause: Your air plant is no longer alive, RIP ✌️

Interested in air plants? Browse my inventory here >
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