Why Air Plants Are the Hottest New Decor Trend
These otherworldly plants are thriving almost everywhere.
By Rachel Kupfer | Photography by Rick Gayle
With twisting tendrils that look as though they were plucked from the pages of a Dr. Seuss story, Tillandsia spp.—more commonly known as air plants—have made the leap into the mainstream. These funky flora thrive in compact spaces. Their popularity stems not only from their unusual appearance, but also from the fact that they are virtually maintenance-free.
A genus of the bromeliad family, air plants are available in more than 500 varieties. But what really makes them interesting is their roots—or rather, their lack thereof. The tiny stems absorb nutrition through their leaves and lay groundwork only for stability. They therefore can exist almost anywhere, from the side of a tree trunk to inside a seashell.
Social media has recently become overgrown with air plant addicts thanks to a cultural realignment with bohemian trends of the ’70s, including macramé, wall tapestries and hanging house plants. Image feeds are bursting with plant-centric interiors, but these lanky sprouts stand out from the masses with their versatility and otherworldly artistic form. The winding leaf clusters are dramatic yet graceful and can bring additional dimension and tranquility to your existing spaces.
Tending to Tillandsia
Air plant enthusiasts Michael Lanier and Coby Bruckner are co-owners of downtown Phoenix plant store The Bosque at Pueblo. The couple feature hundreds of Tillandsia species in their shop—and they have even more at home. “We keep a few of our favorites from every store order we place,” Lanier says. Here, they offer tips for growing these easy-care flora.
Mix it up. In the wild, these funky plants use roots only for support. As such, they don’t need soil, allowing you to showcase them in a variety of fun pots and terrariums. At The Bosque at Pueblo, air plants have found happy homes in pieces of coral, driftwood and wire crates.
Light and breezy. Tillandsia need a healthy dose of vitamin D, but they don’t tolerate direct sun well. Place them near windows for filtered rays, and choose containers that allow light and airflow to reach the entire plant. At home, Bruckner and Lanier keep their plants near the window above their kitchen sink to best replicate the aerophytes’ native rainforest climate.
Be creative. Use wire to attach these small sprouts to different planters or found items. They can hang on walls, decorate a wreath or add life to a sculpture.
Heed the hue. Note leaf color, Bruckner guides, because it hints at how much sun a plant can tolerate. Darker greens are less reflective and need less light than paler shades.
Healthy hydration. In our arid desert climate, air plants should be watered once a week. Submerge them upside down or mist them until they drip, Bruckner says. Be sure to shake them out afterward to prevent trapped water, which can lead to mold and rotting.
No additives, please. Air plants are sensitive to chemicals and pollution. Use distilled water to avoid additives, and stay away from fertilizers with copper, which is toxic to Tillandsia, Lanier warns. This also means they should not be housed in copper planters.
Watch for flowers. Tillandsia bloom once in their lifetime, and the occurrence is unpredictable, Bruckner says. Flowering signals that the plant will begin to produce pups, or offspring. Repotting the new stems isn’t necessary, but prepare for a bigger, twistier addition.
Putting on Airs
From undulating tendrils to corkscrew clusters, air plants grow in a vast
range of shapes, colors and textures.