Tillandsias are affixed to a piece of wood with
nontoxic, waterproof glue. You can spray or mist
the plant to water it; fertilizer can be added to
plants but hate dirt?
a whimsical burst of greenery that has your name on it.
native of rain forests, deserts and swamps, the air
plant — officially, Tillandsia (tuh-LAND-zee-uh) —
doesn’t need soil. These plants absorb all their water
and nutrients through their leaves, and they use roots
only to attach themselves to surfaces that offer good
sun exposure. You might find air plants perched in trees
in the Everglades or tucked into rocky cliffs in South
America. And, increasingly, you can see them in American
plant shops and garden centers.
gotten really popular over the last five years,"
says Zenaida Sengo, author of the new book "Air
Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias" (Timber
Press). "A couple of years ago you knew about them
if you were plant savvy or style savvy, and now it’s
like, whoa! Everybody knows about them."
book is a great introduction. She has sections on care,
origins and display, as well as hundreds of color photos
to illustrate design and decorating projects to immerse
yourself in the wonders of these deceptively simple
showstoppers. She is well-versed in her subject. An
artist and horticulturist in San Francisco, Sengo works
with tillandsias at the highly regarded garden shop
Flora Grubb Gardens.
plants can be placed on trays, displayed in your
favorite bowls, even glued to wood. Their roots are for
attachment only, Sengo says, and they grow just fine
when properly attached with a nontoxic waterproof glue
like Tilly Tacker.
air plants can’t live on air — a popular
misconception — and if their demands are simple, they’re
is key. First and foremost, do you have a spot that’s
bright enough?" Sengo says. Bright, and indirect:
Tillandsias need as much bright, indirect light as
possible. She recommends east-facing windows, where
morning sun hits the plants for a few hours. West-facing
windows are good, too, as long as the direct sun hits
late in the day when it’s not as strong.
plants also need to be watered regularly; many growers
use a combination of regular misting and occasional
soaking. And air plants generally need fertilizer, which
is added to water and absorbed through the leaves during
spraying or soaking.
an air plant is part of the fun: Relatives of the
pineapple, air plants can look like bursts of grass,
miniature aloe vera plants and fluffy mosses. They
flower, too, but not frequently, so Sengo suggests
choosing the leaves and structure you like best; that’s
what you’re going to be looking at most of the time.
frequently seen in stores, like Tillandsia stricta and
T. aeranthos, can be good choices for beginners, Sengo
says. Aeranthos has graceful hot pink and purple blooms,
and stricta has sturdy pinkish blooms.
two types grow relatively quickly, and they’re easy to
get to bloom," Sengo says.
plants send out offspring, or "pups," after
flowering, and most species can grow into large
spherical clusters of plants.
and crafting with air plants can be as simple as setting
a plant in your favorite bowl or as elaborate as
fashioning a wall design with multiple plants and a
frame. In one striking — and relatively simple —
project, Sengo glues fluffy mounds of tillandsia to a
piece of weathered wood that’s then mounted on the
wall. The glue doesn’t hurt the plants, which continue
to grow as long as they get enough sunlight and water.
shows air plants displayed in bullhorns, baskets, fronds
and even a hartebeest skull. There are air plants
attached to the wall with steel prongs, air plants
grouped together in hanging gardens, air plants
suspended from the ceiling like mistletoe.
you do with your air plants, remember that less is often
more, Sengo says.
usually suggest that you stick to, if not a single type
(of air plant), a few types, and you group them together
with like colors and textures so your eye can
differentiate," Sengo says. "It’s much more
pleasing to the eye that way, especially at first
"Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias"
rocks: Sengo loves to pair air plants with rocks; smooth
white pebbles can give a grassy air plant a seaside
your treasures: Since air plants don’t need soil, they’re
easy to pair with bowls or trays you’ve already
some wire: A little stainless-steel wire can affix
living air plants to leafless branches; arrange in a
your local garden center, and even some big-box stores,
for air plants. Here are a few websites we found that
specialize in them:
Air Plant Shop: airplantshop.com
Plant Supply Co.: airplantsupplyco.com
Plant Design Studio: air-plants.com