Air Plants Are Easy To Care For, But They Need Soaking – The Virginian-Pilot

Q I recently ordered an air plant, Tillandsia xerographica, as it looks cool and seems to need little care. However, it did not come with care instructions. I did some research, and the care tips vary from misting it with water once a week, soaking it for 20 minutes to a few hours, etc. Others said to water it only when it starts to lose its color. It is light green and does not have much color. No advice? —D. Watson, Newport News

A. There is a lot of interest in these “maintenance free” factories these days. It seems to me that they are more abundant on the market now. You can find them locally in garden centers and in the flower aisles of supermarkets. They adorn the pages of interior design type magazines. I agree – they are cool. You certainly weren’t wrong in choosing Tillandsia as a trendy addition to your home decor.

The air plant requires minimal care, with only a few caveats. Maybe with a bit of context, the care requirements will make more sense to you.

Tillandsias are a genus of epiphytes, also called air plants or aerophytes. The group belongs to the Bromeliaceae (pineapple) family and consists of several hundred species, endemic and widespread, throughout the Americas, especially tropical Central and South America. They are found in many different environments – forest, mountain and desert. Carolus Linnaeus, the famous taxonomist, named the genus after Elias Tillandz, another well-known Swedish physician and botanist, who preceded him.

Understanding plant morphology – its shape and structure – will provide clues to care. The roots of epiphytes attach to a host for physical support only; these plants are not parasitic – they do not derive their sustenance from their host through their roots. The host is known as a phorophyte (“phoro”, carrier or carrier; “phyte”, plant).

Perhaps you know another strange plant, Spanish moss. Not a foam at all. Taxonomically speaking, it is in a separate division from the “true” mosses. The plant evokes visions of places such as New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, Wilmington and others. Locally you may have seen it at the Norfolk Botanical Garden, the Great Dismal Swamp or perhaps even in your own backyard. In fact, our First Landing State Park is considered the northernmost limit of this unusual plant. The binomial (scientific name) of this familiar botanical quirk is Tillandsia usneoides. See a connection?

But back to caring for your air plant:

  • These plants prefer bright, indirect light. Thus, an east or south exposure is ideal. A western exposure may be too bright, especially in summer.
  • Moisture is the tricky part of the care puzzle. Keep a close eye on the foliage. If the tips curl, turn brown, or both, the plant is not getting the proper moisture. Plants should be soaked, as if submerged, in water for about 15-30 minutes every one to two weeks. Some sources recommend using distilled or rainwater. After soaking, it is important to let the plant dry completely. Then mist or mist it weekly. The timing and frequency depends on its exposure to light and the humidity in your home.
  • Fertilization needs are minimal. Add a bromeliad fertilizer to the dunk solution every month or so.
  • Temperature: Plants do well with a range of 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Inspect your plants weekly and pay attention to seasonal fluctuations in light and humidity in the home.

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