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Tillandsia -- Growing Air Plants

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Tillandsia -- Growing Air Plants

Tillandsia ionantha brachycaulos

Photo © Russell's Bromeliads
There are about 500 different species of tillandsia; the best known is the Spanish moss that gracefully drapes from oak trees throughout the American South. This huge genus—the largest in the bromeliad family—is sometimes divided into the grey-leaved air plants and green-leaved terrestrial plants. In truth, all tillandsia are naturally epiphytic air plants that grow by clinging to trees and extracting excess moisture from the air. Once rare, tillandsia are now common in garden centers, where they are frequently sold as part of hanging gardens. Only a few tillandsias can be grown in pots—the rest must be mounted.

Growing Conditions:

Light: Bright light, but not direct sunlight. A south, east or west window is perfect. They can also be grown under fluorescent tubes.
Water: Water 2 to 4 times a week with a mister. If your environment is dry, mist daily. Water until the plant is saturated.
Temperature: Some varieties can withstand near freezing temperatures, but most will thrive between 70ºF and 85ºF. High humidity is a bonus.
Support: Glue tillandsias to cork, coral, stone, or driftwood. Only a few varieties can adapt to soil.
Fertilizer:Use a low-copper liquid fertilizer, diluted to 1/4 strength. Feed monthly.

Propagation:

Tillandsias reproduce by putting out offsets, or pups, from the base of the mother plant. When the pups are half the size of the mother, they can be divided and mounted on their own. Tillandsias can also be grown from seed, but this is a slow process that might take years.

Mounting:

Tillandsias prefer to be mounted on a solid substrate that does not retain water. You can glue your tillandsia directly to the surface with a strong adhesive, or you can wire the plant to the base. Don't cover the base of the plant with moss or it may rot. Tillandsia can be grown on almost any imaginable decorative mount, including shells, rocks, slate, driftwood, etc. Group them in decorative clumps for maximum effect. Two varieties—T. cyanea and T. lindenii—can be adapted to soil.

Varieties:

There are many hundreds of species of tillandsia. Some of the more popular ones include: T. ionantha, T. xerographica, T. caput-medusae, and T. circinnata. Spanish moss is T. usneoides. The growing requirements for various species are similar. Two varieties, T. cyanea and T. lindenii, are often sold under the label "Pink Quill" plants and can be grown in soil. Other species are less adaptable.

Grower's Tips:

Tillandsias can be wonderfully rewarding plants—their leaves often blush amazing colors before a bloom. A well-kept collection looks like a healthy coral reef. The most common mistakes made with tillandsia are not providing enough water and overfertilizing. If the leaves start to curl under, the plant is likely gasping for water. Submerge it overnight in the kitchen sink and it will come back. Finally, like epiphytic orchids, they require lots of fresh air, so don't suffocate the plants with moss.
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