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Blog #2  There’s Something in the Air… Oh Wait, It’s a Plant!

Did you ever want to give a plant as a gift to someone who isn’t exactly “gifted” when it comes to caring for plants? The perfect solution and the easiest plant to grow – an air plant! (or two, or ten…)

Air plants, or more properly known as epiphytes, do not grow in soil. In their natural environment they anchor themselves to larger plants or trees and collect moisture from the air and rain. All nutrients are gathered and absorbed from falling debris. No worries - it is a friendly relationship, the air plants are not parasitic and rarely do damage to the host plant, although Spanish moss has been known to grow so large and heavy that it can rob light from the tree and cause weakening and limb breakage (more on Spanish Moss in a bit).

There are a number of air plants growing in nature but the most commonly found for sale in garden centers and nurseries are from the genus Tillandsia. These plants naturally grow in Central and South America, Mexico and the southern part of the United States and consist of over 500 species.

Tillandsias are very unique in appearance, almost like they are from another world; I actually saw them growing wild on some alien planet like “Rakella Prime” while watching a Star Trek episode (and said to myself “That’s so fake –they are native to Earth, I grow those in the greenhouse!) Beautiful, sometimes swirling leaves that can change color provide a base for bright, vibrant flower shoots. They definitely make for a conversation piece when company comes to visit.

Since there is no need for soil, air plants can be displayed in some very artful and unique ways. A common display method is to mount them on an attractive piece of wood. Simply put a dot of adhesive (I use Liquid Nails) on the underside of the plant and press it on the wood. Another is to mount them on a wreath or create a swag.

There are many other ways to display your Tillandsia collection. One is to simply hang them by a piece of fishing line to give them the illusion of just floating in mid-air.  Another way is to place them on top of sand or pebbles. I recently gave two as a Christmas gift in this manner. I had two champagne glasses engraved with the recipient's name, filled them halfway with tumbled glass and put one air plant in each. My friend adored them and with their minimal maintenance requirements I did not feel as if I had given them a “dependent” as I sometimes do when gifting a potted plant.

What does minimal maintenance actually mean? To water, simply soak the entire plant in bottled spring water or rain water for an hour a couple of times a week. This is great for single plants but maybe more difficult to do if they are glued on a wreath. When a plant cannot be soaked in this manner you can mist them, but when I say mist I actually mean spray heavily, enough to totally drench the little guys to the point that they are dripping. Do this a couple of times with each watering to make sure the plant is getting enough moisture. Tillandsias are not very fussy on room temperatures; ideally it should range from 10 degrees to 25 degrees. In cold or very humid conditions do fewer waterings. Also once a month mix a weak solution of fertilizer in your soaking water, about half the recommended strength. I use an organic fertilizer like Seaboost or you can buy fertilizer designed just for air plants. Air plants are best placed in bright, indirect light.

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