Overhead view of several air plants in wooden dishes
(Image credit: chikaphotograph)


Tillandsia, or air plants, are one of the easier plants to grow. They are perfect for novice gardeners who want to dip a toe into the world of houseplants. It takes little knowledge to know how to care for an air plant, as these are epiphytic flora that don't even require soil. There are a wide variety of ways to display their diverse forms. With a little luck and time, the little plants may even produce offsets and bloom.

Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants or structures. They are not parasitic, but simply use the other plant as an anchor. Tillandsia plants are related to bromeliads, and most species find their home in tropical forests. Commonly called air plants, Tillandsia has over 500 species, many of which are available for home growers. They have climbed in popularity in recent years, likely due to the simple air plants care required.

What are Air Plants?

Air plants attach to other plants or substrates by use of their roots. These roots don't uptake moisture and nutrients like most plants. Instead, the plant collects water from the air and the leaves trap dust and other materials, providing nutrients.

There are two main types of air plants: mesic and xeric. Mesic plants hail from areas with high humidity, while xeric plants are native to regions with desert-like climates. Mesic plants tend to have greener, cupped leaves, while xeric air plants have gray, fuzzy leaves that are larger than mesic foliage. This allows the plant more surface area to gather moisture and light.

Most Tillandsia are hardy to USDA zone 9 but prove to be very easy houseplants in any region. There is a wide diversity of leaf color and shape available, but most leaves are pointed and slightly curled. The leaves all sport tiny scales which help the plant absorb its needs through the air.

How to Take Care of Air Plants

When it comes to Tillandsia care, the plant's needs couldn't be more straightforward. Many growers find the xeric varieties easier to grow because they are more adapted to low moisture situations and therefore not as picky. Either variety should perform well though if situated in bright, indirect light such as at an eastern or western window.

During the cooler parts of the year the plant will do well in a southern facing window but may receive burnt leaves during the summer months. Average home temperatures of 65 to 85 degrees F. (18-30 C.) during the day provide a perfect ambiance for these plants. They can tolerate temperatures of 50 degrees F. (10 C.) for brief periods of time.

Watering Air Plants

As with any plant, Tillandsia will need supplemental moisture in the home. Most homes, especially in winter, tend to be on the dry side. Xeric plants will be fine with a misting every other day. Mesic plants need a bit more moisture. These may be rinsed in water two times per week. Another way to water them is by soaking the plant in tepid water for 10 to 20 minutes once per week. Watch the leaves carefully to see if the plant needs to be soaked more frequently. Underwatered air plants may develop brown tips. Overwatered plant leaves will curl more severely.

Air plants can be sensitive to chlorine and other items found in tap water. They should also not be introduced to hot or extremely cold water. Room temperature bottled or distilled water is the perfect option. These plants do not need fertilizer and will perform well with the perfect balance of light and supplemental water.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.