I’m taking a break from the garden this week. Things are really slowing down for both my indoor and outdoor plants, and I figured you might be a bit bored of endless pictures of tired pansies and crispy cornflowers. So why don’t we talk about my new gardening interest instead?

They’re cropping up on DIY and lifestyle blogs left, right and center, being carried around in miniature necklace planters and are the decorative indoor greenery on everyone’s brains right now but what exactly is tillandsia?

So, what are they?

Whilst most plants require rich soil for nutrients, tillandsia, “tillies” or “air plants” do not. These strange, often spidery-looking plants are epiphytes, a non-parasitic organism that collects water and nutrients from the air. They do not require potting like a traditional plant.

Naturally found in the forests, deserts and mountainous regions of Central and South America and the West Indies, tillandsia cling to larger plants and trees and gather moisture and nutrients from the dust, decaying leaves and insect matter that pass them in the air. They do not take anything from the host tree, depending on it purely for physical support.

In recent years these fairly low-maintenance plants have risen in popularity thanks to their simple care regime and numerous methods of display; because they do not require a pot with soil they can be hung from walls, arranged on tabletops or displayed elegantly on a windowsill or even in your bathroom.

Where can I get one?

Most garden centers will keep a few plants in stock throughout the year, but the best time for bright and colorful tillies is spring. A huge selection of websites exists that sell them too, such as the well-stocked and inspiring, that also sells a variety of glass orbs and containers to grow your plants in. These websites offer lots of hints and tips for keeping your tillandsia in tip-top condition.

How do I care for my tillandsia?

The common misconception about these air-loving plants is that they do not need watering. This is incorrect. Whilst they can survive periods of drought, tillandsia will do so by ceasing all growth and repair when starved of water, and eventually curl up and die. If you want tough tillies (!) you need to ensure that your plants are given good water several times a week. Just pop them in the sink and fully saturate the plant, but remember to allow them to dry off completely between soakings to prevent leaf rot.

A few other things to bear mind regarding air plant care:

  • The optimum temperature for tillies is approximately 20 degrees C, or 70 degrees F, and they prefer it slightly cooler at night
  • Give your plants bright, filtered light by placing them next to a window
  • Tillandsias need air to survive, so make sure they are kept in a well-ventilated area
  • Orchid fertilizer offers a good boost, just mix it with water in a spray bottle and lightly mist your plants. Be careful not to overdo it though – too much fertilizer can burn leaves.
  • If you choose to mount your plants using glue, be sure not to apply the adhesive on the area where the roots form

What are your thoughts?

I haven’t got my hands on a tilly yet, but the most appealing option is definitely the miniature planter by Wearable Planters. I wrote about them in my August Round-Up but since then have seen them pop up all over the place online. Who wouldn’t want to carry a plant around with them, and especially one that survives purely on air?

What about you? Do you keep air plants at home? Are they easier to care for than plants in pots or do you find the constant need for soaking and misting a bit of a hassle? As always, I’d love to know your thoughts!

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