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Growing Tillandsias (Air Plants)
Topic Started: Feb 24 2011, 09:32 PM (10,019 Views)
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Zone 5 A Ontario Canada
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Growing Tillandsias (Air Plants)
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Tillandsias are the largest genus in the Bromeliad family. When Carl Linnaeus was asked to name this new group of plants he apparently thought of his friend Professor Tillands who was strongly averse to travel by water as he was prone to sea sickness. Linnaeus's little joke seems appropriate because this group of plants also appears to prefer life without water: they are truly 'air plants'. Close examination, however, reveals a series of small 'sponges' along the leaves that efficiently extract water from the air.


Like all Bromeliads, Tillandsias are from tropical America. They survive in three habitats: desert, mountains and steamy jungles.

Desert Species

The desert type e.g. T. tectorum and T. xerographica, commonly have thick, stiff leaves and white or grey fuzzy scales. They need full sun. They can effectively extract water from the air to stay healthy but in our dry indoor atmosphere they should be misted frequently or put near a humidifier. They should never be left wet and like moving air to dry them. Many growers use small fans that the plants seem to enjoy.

Jungle Species
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The dark green jungle dwellers grow naturally in high humidity, low light and plentiful rain. They like to be frequently moistened and allowed to remain moist. Those plants with soft, pliant, mostly green leaves will take more light than those with dark green leaves which need low light. These plants have fewer scales/leaves to extract water and so moisture is critical. They can be dunked in water once or twice a week to freshen them. Tillandsias are extremely sensitive to water-softening devices so care must be taken to avoid using such water.


In warm weather Tillandias can go outside to enjoy the fresh air and rain. Like orchids they can be hung from trees or posts and this outdoor session seem to invigorate them and encourage new growth.


Fertilizer is given twice a year and tends to add colour to the leaves. In the fall, use 14 strength high phosphorus (10-20-10) fertilizer and in the spring, 14 strength of high nitrogen (30-10-10). It is also possible to apply a weak solution (1/2 to 1/3 strength) of liquid fertilizer one a month in the misting can.


Some Tillandsias like T. cyanea, T. utriculata and T. punctulata, will grow in a pot although they are mostly tree dwellers and will grow quite well on a slab of wood. Use pots when misting or close daily attention is not possible. The medium should be equal parts sphagnum moss and perlite and shredded fir bark. This is a quick drying mixture very like orchid mixture. Soak the pot once or twice a week.

Dry growing types such as T. ionantha, T. bulbosa and T. tectorum require a different mix. Chopped tree fern fibre or osmunda, redwood or firbark are suitable for large plants. Fill the pot 1/3 full with potsherds or pebbles, add the mix, and press the fibre or bark around the roots with the base of the leaf cluster above the surface of the medium.

For mounting on a wall mount, the base of the plant and/or roots can be attached with a staple, tacks or silicone cement. Fine wire can also be used to hold the plant firmly but not too snug. Place the plant so that the majority of the leaves seem to be upward and then secure to the mount.


Tillandias are mainly foliage plants but they do flower and some varieties like T. ionantha exhibit a lovely red blush on the leaves. Other species like T. utriculata lose their colour as the 6 foot flowering spike grows outward.

When a mature plant refuses to flower it is time to provide either more light, lower night -time temperatures (10-16degrees C.) or a little fertilizer. The flowering season is 6 months long so that it is possible to have colour all year.
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From seed these plants take seven years but are easily propagated from off sets or 'pups' that occur at the side of the flowering stem near the base. Rooting hormone can be applied but is not required.

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I've seen people just pin these on the walls, I know they're air plants but can they survive for long just.. on the wall in the middle of a room?
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Zone 5 A Ontario Canada
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I've seen the same thing also seen them as refrigerator magnets and they seem to last for months in these sort of set ups.
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My trees are full of them and I don't do anything. Some fall down and I suppose I could put them elsewhere. We get a lot of rain - a shower yesterday produced 62mm (200" annually). Some people attach them to a dead branch as decoration and it looks nice.
Central America in the mountains, Zone 11
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