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Air Plant, Tillandsia: “The Air Head”


Tillandsia, with its spray of spindly green tentacles, is the ideal low-maintenance indoor plant (not to mention a subtle nod to 1980s rocker hair).

A member of the evergreen family, tillandsia  never loses its color and thrives in four seasons . But the tillandsia belongs to another, even more exclusive club: the aerophytes. Few in number and prized for their self-sufficiency, aerophytes do not need to be planted in soil.They get their energy simply from water and sunlight instead.


Above: Photograph by The Weaver House courtesy of Solabee.  Solabee Flowers sells a selection of air plants online for $10 and up, depending on size and variety. For more, see Shopper’s Diary: A Drugstore-Vibe at Solabee Flowers in Portland, Oregon.

air plants tillandsias mister l Gardenista

Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

Tillandsia plants can be small enough to fit in your palm, or large enough to sprout like wigs when they grow in the wild on the sides of trees. Any size tillandsia has the power to instantly incite a DIY project: miniature indoor garden, suspended terrarium, we’ve done them (and loved them) all.


Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista.

A vented glass sphere the size of a Wiffle ball will, by the way, make a lovely container for a tillandsia you can cup in your palm. Add colored sand or sea glass to the bottom of the glass sphere, and then layer shells or little pieces of moss and wood for the look of a natural mini-environment.


Above: Photograph by Clare Coulson.

“Many plants need much less water than you imagine, especially in winter. A case in point is Tillandsia xerographica, the air plant, £15 at Conservatory Archives,” writes Clare.

Cheat Sheet

  • Goes well with mosses and grasses inside a terrarium.
  • Complements orchids for the exotic look.
  • Very rarely flowers; watch for the leaves to turn red as a plant grows tiny red and purple buds.

Keep It Alive

  • A tillandsia is happiest in partial to full but filtered sun.
  • Submerge in water once every two weeks, you will be forgiven if you miss a few times.
  • Extremely hardy, this is the ideal houseplant.


Settle a tillandsia inside a new home and hang the terrarium from the ceiling by a length of raw jute rope. Or, if you have a tiny, finger-sized tillandsia, secure it inside of a thimble glued to a magnetic strip, and there you have a living refrigerator magnet. We could go on for days.


Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista. F

Oh, and don’t forget: to keep it alive, submerge a tillandsia in a bowl of filtered water (it hates fluoride) overnight, once a week.