How to - Gardening Resources

The magic of air plants

Discover how to care for and add these interesting epiphytes to your indoor decor

They’re spiky, can grow in any direction and seemingly survive on nothing. At first glance, you might think they’re plants from another planet. Luckily, although air plants may look like alien creatures, taking care of them doesn’t demand you adopt a whole new thought process. Besides the fact they don’t need soil to survive, air plants have essentially all the same needs as other plants.

Epiphytes, or air plants, belong to the bromeliad family (the same family as orchids). Naturally, they only grow outdoors in tropical regions, attaching themselves to bark and other natural surfaces in forests, but they can thrive indoors with proper care.

Mark Volman, who owns Tropical Expressions in Hamilton, Ont., says these soilless plants can live for up to eight years. The cultivated varieties he sells in his shop (the largest distributor of air plants in Canada) are cut from varieties from Central America and are pest-free.

Most varieties will bloom once per year and won’t die after blossoming. In fact, this usually means they’re pregnant and will produce two to three babies per season, according to Volman.

Where do they grow?
“A lot of people think air plants are parasitic, but they’re not,” says Volman. They’re not looking for a host for nutrients, just somewhere to anchor themselves.” Air plants will attach themselves to tree bark, moss or some other host as a home base, but they take all their nutrients from the water they absorb from the air. They don’t sink roots into soil at all.

Indoors at home, keep them in a window facing any direction except south or another bright area. They like bright light but not direct sun (although they will tolerate two to three hours of direct sun per day). The brighter the space they’re in, the sooner they’ll bloom and multiply. Air plants will also grow under fluorescent lights where naturally bright spaces aren’t available.

As for temperature, air plants can grow in any temperature between about 0 degrees and 42 degrees Celcius—but keep in mind that they are tropical plants, so they do prefer warmer climes.

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