Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Air & Water: Simple Tillandsia Care

Tillandsias, commonly known as "air plants," are probably my most favorite of all plants. They are in the bromeliad family (as are pineapples!), and are epiphytes, which means in their native environment they grow on other plants and without soil. In fact, tillandsias take all they need to survive from the air around them! A tillandsia will survive sitting on a counter top or bookshelf or in a terrarium. All they need is bright indirect light and a wee bit of humidity, and they're good to go.
My wall art: a collection of tillandsias.

Air plants originate from the warmer climes reaching from Florida to Chile. There are thousands of varieties, ranging in size and shape from a mere centimeter in diameter to over a foot. Spanish moss, that beautiful stuff that drapes from nearly every in Florida swamps, is a variety of tillandsia that is measured in feet! In Canada, even in Vancouver, tillandsias are easy to keep alive and enjoy, but they sometimes do take a little bit of attention. From my own experience, tillandsias do best in terrariums as such environments provide them with the tropical humidity and warmth they are accustomed to. When kept outside a terrarium, it takes a little more effort to keep your tillandsia fresh. Generally, a healthy tillandsia should be flexible and feel a bit like grass, soft to the touch. Why it dries out it gets very stiff and turns brown.They require regular spritzing, a couple of times a week, maybe a bit more if you keep your house on the dryer side. Once a month or so, it is good practice to fully submerge your tillandsias, get them nice and soaked, and let them fully dry before spraying them again. If you're putting them in moss, make sure that they air plant and moss are fully dry before respraying. It's a sad story, but I have seen the end of a few in my collection because they have rotted out from the bottom or inside. What happens is water collects at the base of the foliage and never gets to dry, which ultimately leads to a dead tillandsia. About once a month I add a tiny bit of fertilizer to my spray bottle, jut to give my tillandsias a bit of a boost. During the summer, tillandsias can be very content outside, provided they are in bright, not direct, sunlight. If you're lucky, you may even get them to flower! But as a general rule, I encourage people to purchase them for their shape and appeal, and if they flower, well that is just a pleasant surprise (especially in Canada)!

Presently I have a collection of a dozen or so tillandsias, but I am always adding to it. Southlands Nursery in Vancouver consistently has the best selection of air plants, and being that I work there, it is rare that I don't bring a new one home with me ever week. My problem now is that my managers have picked up on my addiction to tillandsias, so when we get a fresh shipment in they let me price everything and cherry pick my the very best ones. My favorite purchase is probably the xerographica; it's size is a statement in and of itself, but its structure is what I love most. The little rubras are a fun splash of colour, and I love how they look like little pineapples. The butzii has this amazing flecked pattern on it, and the structure to it make me think of the ocean. I put a little tillandsia in almost every terrarium I do up not only as a kind of signature, but because their shapes and colours add the other-worldly feel in such a unique way. I hope this little tillandsia tutorial has inspired you and has answered any questions you have about taking care of one!
Brachycaulos v. multiflora

Ionantha v. Rubra cluster

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