Air Plants

SHARE THE AIR

With fronds like the tentacles of jellyfish and hardly any roots to speak of, these curious, anemone-like plants certainly evoke the magical. And yet, this not-so-distant relative of the pineapple from the genus Tillandsia and the family Bromeliaceae does not actually live on air alone, as their name might suggest. Like any other plant, they need water and minerals to survive. But these free-spirited wonders absorb nutrients right through their leaves, aided by little hairs called trichomes. So, while they do have roots, the roots exist only to secure the plants to a surface. Air plants don’t need soil at all.

These green gems get a lot of attention in our shop. For one thing, they are a joy to look at. Their shades vary from sage to emerald, and they can fit inside a thimble or grow large enough to fill a sizable vase. They also have the ability to produce showy bracts (leaves, essentially, but ones that can be hot pink or saffron yellow) and delicate flowers in purples, pinks, and oranges. Also, unlike other flowering plants that begin to wilt once they’re separated from their roots, the air plant can be removed from its environment (rocks, sand, or even other plants) and still thrive. That’s why, in Mexico, artists gather several species of Tillansdsia to create ornate floral arches (“arcos florales”) for the celebration of Catholic holy days. It’s also why air plants have become something of an interior-decorating phenomenon, popping up on bookshelves and coffee tables in terrariums and funky vases. The air plant, in these environments, becomes living art.