How To Gardening Plant Portraits Air plant

Air plant

By | March 30, 2021

A small plant that doesn't require soil

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Air plants inside of a miniature greenhouse
Photo by Nancy Norris

Common name: Air plant
Latin name: Tillandsia sp.
Plant type: Perennial
USDA Hardiness Zones: 9-11
Cultural needs: No soil; indirect light indoors or shade outdoors; regular watering; air!
Plant size: 2-6″

Obviously they need air but these little air plants also require regular watering and specific amounts of light. In their native South American rain forests, these epiphytes (not parasites) use their roots only to anchor onto bark in trees, well under the canopy but high enough to receive drying winds. To mimic nature’s gifts, grow your air plants where they can be removed from dry pots periodically to soak up water. You’ll know when they look shriveled that they need moistening. Light misting helps between dunkings but drying out is just as necessary.

Hundreds of species of tillandsias are in the Bromeliad family. T. ionantha ‘Fuego’ (seen here in the miniature greenhouse) grows purple flowers nestled among fire-red spiky leaves. The smallest varieties can be used to dress up your garden railway on special days or be left outdoors, attached to containers or structures if given periodic water, bright shade, and, of course, good, clean air. The leaves, not roots, take up nutrients and can be dunked in, or misted with, a solution of orchid fertilizer. You can separate pups, if you wish, when they are one-third as large as the parent, or let them “clump.”

Some of the plants in the photo were purchased online from and came with instructions. Learn more at

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