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Decorating with Tillandsia

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Are you a gardener with small space woes?  Do you aspire to gardening greatness, but don’t have the best luck keeping your plants alive?  Or, are you just tired of the ordinary, and looking for something a little more exotic to add to your collection?You may want to look into a little genus called tillandsia.

Actually, “little” is isn’t quite correct.  Tillandsia is a genus in the Bromeliad family including well over five hundred different species—a huge group of plants native to Central and South America.  Tillandsia are better known by their common name, air plants, since they quite literally grow in the air.  This is because tillandsia are epiphytes, a type of plant that uses its roots to anchor itself to larger plants and structures instead of in the soil.  In fact, epiphytes don’t need soil at all—they rely on unique structures in their leaves to absorb all of the nutrients they need from the air around them.

When placed among your other house or garden plants, tillandsia have no problem standing out from the crowd.  Most species feature wiry and wild curling leaves, and when in flower, boast incredibly vibrant blooms in shades of royal purple, hot pink and fuchsia, and red.  Even the leaves of a tillandsia can change to a deep red during flowering.  When the flower is spent, the plant begins producing pups at the base, creating clusters of bushy and interesting foliage over time.  You can add to the natural interest of the plant by taking advantage of its soilless growth habit when putting it on display.

Tillandsia have become very popular in the home and garden in recent years, probably owing to the many creative ways you can showcase them in your décor.  With tillandsia, you can truly turn your plantings into works of art.  Since it doesn’t require soil to grow, it also doesn’t require a traditional planter that you’ll have to hang or keep on a shelf and keep watered, allowing you to create a much more interesting green display.  Whether you’re making a living curtain, mounted tillandsia frames, a dining room centerpiece, or terrarium, your plantings will draw attention and give your home or patio a warm tropical feel.

Here are some air plant displays we really love.  You can create these arrangements with purchased containers, or just dress up an interesting item in your home with some greenery.  To attach tillandsias to your containers or other displays, you can use fishing line, twist ties, or even glue:

An unexpected table centerpiece arrangement from Southern Living.

An exotic alternative to the traditional holiday wreath from The Rainforest Garden.

The mounted tillandsia frames featured on Poppytalk use wire to hold them in place.

Apartment Therapy has a lot of ideas about how you can display your air plants—we particularly like the idea of mounting them to a piece of driftwood or petrified wood for a natural and one-of-a-kind piece of wall art.

Curbly features a list of tillandsia arrangements, including some exceptional vertical gardens, a dramatic Spanish moss display, and an air plant hanging garden that illustrates the variety of containers you can use to create a living curtain.

Though your air plants won’t need very much attention, you will have to water them from time to time.  You will need to soak your tillandsia in a shallow tub or sink of water for two hours every other week.  A quick rinse every few days will allow the plant to take in the water it needs in between long soakings.  After soaking, you can shake them off, allow them to dry, and return them to your display.  Tillandsias prefer very humid environments, so you may want to mist yours a few times a day. Be careful not to overwater them as this can very easily kill them.  Don’t allow your tillandsia to sit in pools of water—maker sure it has fully dried before placing it back in bowls and vases to prevent water from sitting at the bottom.  Do not use softened water or distilled water on your tillandsia.

Keep your tillandsia in a bright, but filtered spot.  You can fertilize your plants by adding a very small amount of water-soluble fertilizer to your soaking water, but do not overfertilize.  Apply fertilizer, at most, once a month, and use it at quarter strength.  Tillandsia experts recommend skipping the commercial fertilizer and using aquarium or pond water to soak your plants.