Tillandsia “air plants” are real, living, breathing plants that do not grow in soil. They are epiphytes which mean they attach themselves by their roots to other solid entities like rocks, trees or other plants. They are not parasitic as they do not derive nutrients from what they attach to, they simply need something to hang onto. Air plants instead derive their nutrients through their leaves from the air around them.
Typically, air plants are found in countries closer to the equator, like Central and South America, where the air is very humid and nature alone provides plenty of hydration for them to survive on their own. Air plants are however incredibly resilient plants. In recent years their popularity has spread because it has been discovered that these exotic plants can survive in almost any climate with just a little extra TLC. As you may have seen our adage, soak them once a month overnight. In most climates, in most months, this is just the little bit of extra care air plants need to flourish in atmospheres away from the humidity of countries near the equator.
There are more than 540 different species in the Tillandsia air plant family. At Living Air Ware™, we use about a dozen of them in our charms with polymer clay designs. The genus Tillandsia is in the Bromeliad family, which means they have brothers and sisters in the orchid family. –Makes some sense, right? Orchids from the store are usually grown in woodchips, not soil. It’s because orchids are also epiphytes, anchoring themselves to trees, shrubs or rocks.
Tillandsia air plants are evergreen and perennial. This means that not only do their leaves stay green all year long, but each individual plant will live, with proper care, more than two years. Additionally, most species of Tillandsia will bloom on a regular basis. It is quite common for some Tillandsia species to take on a different leaf color (usually changing from green to red) when it is about to flower. Each bloom can be a several month process; Tillandsia air plants, in general, are a slow-growing plant. But when they do bloom, they bring out fantastic flowering colors of bright red, orange, pink and purple.
When the flowering bloom starts to die, we recommend you carefully clip out the dead flower. This sends a signal to the air plant that it is transition resources and put its plant energy into having babies. Yes, babies. In the Tillandsia world, they’re called “pups” or air plant pups. Air plant pups are small offshoots from the base of the mother plant. When the pups get to be about a 1/3 to ½ the size of the mother plant, they are strong and healthy enough to be gently removed from the mother plant to start growing on their own. We use our air plant pups in our Living Air Ware™ earrings. But not to be alarmed if you have Living Air Ware™ earrings, your earring plants will not grow that large. The pups we use in our earrings are most often harvested from air plant species that are small in nature to begin with.
In a larger Living Air Ware™ charm, the air plant pups will grow much larger before they are strong enough to be harvested. And let it be known, you do not have to remove your pups from the mother plant. She will keep growing them until she has a family surrounding her. In this way, the air plant in your Living Air Ware™ charm will grow outward in diameter, not necessarily, upward (or downward or sideways) and tall (or, respectively, long or wide). You may at some point in time decide you do want to remove the mother if she dies off after a few years. But most certainly, one of her pups can be placed in her home to maintain the appearance of your Living Air Ware™ charm.
Please see our webpage on How to Care for Living Air Ware™ for more information on the low maintenance of Tillandsia and our Living Air Ware™ charms.