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Tillandsia spp. otherwise known as air plants originate from Mexico and Central America. They are small tropical evergreen epiphytes, whose wiry roots attach themselves to the branches of another plant to live, without rooting themselves in soil.They grow in xeric (dry) and mesic (moist) tropical habitats. They take water and nutrients from the air and rain around the plant that they live on and are not parasitic, as they do not negatively affect their host.
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As they are tropical plants they require bright, diffused light, and as they have evolved in areas which have superior air flow, it is very important that you provide them with good ventilation when nurturing them at home. Air plants can be placed outdoors during the summer months in the UK as they will benefit from additional sunlight and increased humidity. But they must be brought indoors in early autumn so that they do not become cold or waterlogged.
Most air plants don’t like to be in direct sunlight as they will become scorched. Think about their natural habitat and try to recreate where they might like to live in your home. Silver leaved species tolerate more sunlight, but greener species prefer half a day of dappled sunlight.
Often in the UK it is possible to buy Tillandsia plants attached to gnarled pieces of wood, or you can buy them alone, ready to pair with plant, wood or item of your choice. I love air plants because you can be really creative with them, and display them on or around interesting decor within your home. Glass terrariums are popular at the moment but make sure they get a good air flow. You could also place the plants on pebbles, shells or in other found objects.
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Air plants are very low maintenance, and do not need misting with water often. Once a week is enough, though twice a week would be beneficial in very hot weather. Misting with rain water is ideal, as the plant requires the nutrients, especially nitrogen. If your air plant is looking sad and brown you can dunk it in rainwater for a few hours which should help revive it. A small dash of Orchid feed in your misting bottle every now and then can help to keep them happy too.
Air plants are generally pest free, but mealy bugs and mites can sometimes be a problem. If so, clean the leaves gently with a cloth and rubbing alcohol. Do not use soap-based products as these will block the air plants water absorbing pores. Clean away any cobwebs with a little paintbrush.
Tillandsia usneoides – image copyright plantsoftheworld.com