Why won’t my airplants flower?


This is one of the most frequently asked questions of Rare and Air, I can hear people’s frustration!

First we need to understand a bit about Tillandsia’s life cycle.  For most Tillandsias the plant will flower once it matures, after flowering the mother plant will produce pups and gradually die back, each individual plant only flowers once but is replaced by more plants.  These pups reach maturity more quickly than seedlings and continue the process.  This is how clumps of plants form over time.

How long the plant lives before flowering depends on the species and growing conditions.  Some large species may take many years to grow before they flower.

To encourage a plant to flower, check what its individual growing needs are, there are 100s of tillandsias and they have different requirements depending on their natural habitat.  However, the answer often lies in not enough light, no regular water or no feeding.  Tillandsias are naturally nutrient scavengers but they will benefit from a regular feed.  Use a liquid feed at a quarter strength of the regular dosage for ornamental plants and spray onto the leaves monthly.  To encourage flowering use a variety with less nitrogen and more phosphorus.  Don’t use fertilisers that include copper.

The other answer to this question is maybe your plant just isn’t going to flower.  The most commonly grown airplant in South African gardens is Tillandsia bergeri.  T bergeri is also known as the mad pupper, it reproduces so successfully by producing pups, why would it bother flowering?  There are forms that do flower more readily.  Bergeri has quite a wide natural range so different forms probably developed different flowering triggers depending on their habitat.  When grown in plenty of light with regular water the non-flowering form grows into fabulous large dense clumps that go bronze in the sun.

So the answer is to give your airplants a bit of thought and love and enjoy the clumps of foliage as well as some bonus flowers when/if they come.

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