What is an airplant?

One frequently overheard comments at markets and plant shows when people walk past our stand are; ‘Oh those are those airplants, they live just on air’. This Friday we will explain why this isn’t really the case.Tilllandsias (airplants) are a genus of plants from the Bromeliaceae family; what makes them different from most types of plants is that they absorb water and nutrients through their leaves rather than their roots. This doesn’t mean they absorb atmospheric moisture, water must sit on the leaf in order for the plant to absorb it so they do need to be watered. They are incredibly well adapted to take advantage of any water they get and also to conserve water within the plant. This makes Tillandsias great low maintenance plants. They do need good bright light, air circulation and some water to thrive. If the plant stays wet for too long then gas exchange through the leaves can’t take place and it will essentially suffocate so the plants also prefer to dry out within a few hours of being watered.Grey coloured and stiff leaved varieties are adapted to drier conditions. The grey or silver leaf covering is actually tiny scales, called trichomes, which help the plant to absorb water as efficiently as possible in dry conditions. So grey, silver, stiff leaved varieties like plenty of sunlight and less frequent watering, T xerographica, T harrisii, T crocata and T tectorum are great examples. Those species that are more green and so have less trichomes are mesic- they prefer filtered light and more frequent watering, such as T bulbosa, T butzii, T brachycaulos and T secunda.Tillandsias are true epiphytes, their roots are used to anchor them to a tree or rockface in nature and require no soil or medium. This allows you to get really creative with displaying and enjoying your plants- they can live in the air. They don’t live purely on air so give them a bit of TLC to get the best results.

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