Air Plants

When I had my patio cover repaired and painted, I had to move lots of heavy potted plants out of the way. This sort of thing is getting more challenging the older I get. Determined to cut down on future heavy lifting, I planted many of the plants in the ground. But moving my “air plants” back onto the patio was a breeze.

“Air plant” is the common name for a group of plants that require no soil; roots are there just to anchor them to a tree branch or rock face. Plants that grow this way are called “epiphytes” and can include orchids, mosses, and members of the bromeliad family, especially those in the genus Tillandsia. Many of the other genera in the bromeliad family such as the colorful and showy Achmeas, Neoregelias, and Bilbergias have wider leaves that meet at the base to form a water-holding “cup.” I stopped growing this type of bromeliad because I was worried about giving mosquitos a place to breed. Although there are a few Tillandsia species that form “cups,” most do not. The ones I grow, Tillandsia aeranthos and Tillandsia hameri, have leaves too narrow and wispy to do this.

A ceramic chicken sits on a nest of air plants.

I have a friend who collects interesting dead branches and attaches Tillandsias to them with clear fishing line. She attaches others to living trees and shrubs. I just sit mine in pots and other containers with drainage holes. This makes it easy to lift them out and dunk them in a pail of water for a couple of hours when they are dry.

Mine don’t bloom much because I don’t fertilize them. If you want flowers, which on mine are a pretty purple and pink combination, give them a high nitrogen fertilizer.

Many nurseries and home stores carry a limited selection of these plants but the best place to go is Rainforest Flora in Torrance. The retail part of the nursery is housed in a very large greenhouse featuring a koi pond that meanders around artificial rock formations to which are attached hundreds of epiphytic bromeliads. The best time to visit is during a weekend in August when two of their other greenhouses are used by the South Bay Bromeliad Society for their annual show and sale. Not to be missed are the society members’ beautiful and imaginative arrangements featuring epiphytes. Unfortunately, there will probably be no annual show this year because of the pandemic but the nursery itself is open for business.

Tillandsia aeranthos in a bowl.

Categories: Arts

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