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Air Plants: Exotic & Low-Maintenance Home Decor

Air plants require no soil, absorbing their nutrients through air and water. These exotic indoor plants with tentacle-like leaves are low-maintenance and add a pop of color when incorporated into art and home decor.

air plants

Other names for this plant...

Tillandsia plants

About Air Plants

With their exotic appearance and showy, once-in-a-lifetime blooms, air plants are popular picks for perking up a home or office. Commonly used in terrariums, sculptures, and wall art, these little plants add color, texture, and dimensionality to any room. 

Air plants are low-maintenance, require no messy soil, and are safe and non-toxic to pets. They're easy to propagate and make terrific gifts. They will thrive in nearly any indoor space with bright, indirect light and weekly watering.

Botanical Name

Air plants are part of the Tillandsia spp genus in the Bromeliaceae (bromeliad family). Fun fact: These tropical plants share DNA with pineapples!

Other Names

Tillandsia plants

Plant Type

Air plants are epiphytes, which are plants that grow on the surface of another plant. They get their nutrients from water, air, and debris accumulation around the plant (in nature). While they have roots, they are only used to secure the plant to a surface -- like a tree branch. Air plants are not parasitic and do not take nutrients from their host plant. 

There are two types of indoor air plants: mesic and xeric. Mesic varieties enjoy humid environments and a bit more water. They have more colorful, waxy leaves with fewer trichomes (the microscopic 'hairs' on air plant leaves that absorb nutrients). Xeric varieties prefer drier conditions and tend to be a silvery-green color with many trichomes. 

Air plants grow on trees in the wild, but they're not parasitic


Air plants grow natively in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. 


Most air plants have long, slender downward-growing triangular leaves that grow in a rose-shaped pattern. New growth appears from the center.

Air plants live for 2-5 years, and during the end of their lifespan, they produce a brilliant once-in-a-lifetime bloom before dying. The bloom's shape, color, and size vary depending on the species, but most are tubular-shaped, flashy neon flowers in purple, pink, coral, yellow, and red. 

Types Of Air Plants

More than 600 varieties of air plants exist. Some of the most common air plants for indoor use include:

  • Xerographica 

  • Tillandsia Ionantha

  • Stricta

  • Brachycaulos

  • Aeranthos

  • Capitata

  • Bulbosa

  • Caput Medusae

  • Tillandsia Streptophylla 

  • Tectorum Ecuador 

Air Plant Styling 

Air plants are a low-maintenance way to add small pops of color around an indoor space. They're popular in sculptures, wall art, or perched upon a piece of driftwood or a planter filled with a non-soil medium. They look beautiful alongside other exotic plants, like colorful orchids.

In open-air terrariums or globes, they're magical when combined with succulents and Spanish moss (also a species of air plant!). They also make unique floating arrangements when strung from fishing line.

You can find a wealth of air plant styling ideas online.

Air plants can be styled in terrariums


How much light do air plants need?

Air plants need bright indirect light for 4-6 hours per day, but they do not like harsh, direct sunlight. Remember that most air plants grow in rainforests and shady tree canopies in the wild, where they receive filtered sunlight. 


How much water do air plants need?

Water air plants once a week by submerging them in room-temperature water for 15-30 minutes and then drying them upside down on a towel.

It's essential not to over- or under-water your air plants. Keep an eye on new plants to ensure the base isn't soggy and the leaves aren't dry between waterings. 


What temperature should air plants be kept in?

Keep your air plants in rooms between 50 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Air plants can die in temperatures below 45 degrees.  


What humidity do air plants thrive in?

Air plants enjoy moderate to high humidity. They may require misting between weekly watering if your house has very low humidity, especially in the winter. 


Do air plants need soil?



Do air plants need pruning?

Roots can be trimmed for a neater appearance with sharp kitchen scissors or cuticle scissors, but do not cut the base of the plant as it can damage it. Prune brown outer leaves as they die.

Once your air plant displays its once-in-a-lifetime bloom, deadhead it, but expect the plant to die shortly after that. 


Do air plants need fertilizer?

Mist air plants with low-nitrogen bromeliad fertilizer once a month to promote new growth. 

Height & Growth

How big and how fast to air plants grow?

Air plant size depends on the species. Most ornamental air plants used in terrariums and around the home are 2-7 inches. 


Are air plants toxic?

All air plants are safe and non-toxic to pets and people. 


Are air plants safe for pets?

Yes, all air plants are safe and non-toxic to pets. 

Overwatering is a common problem with air plants. The base should never feel soggy

Common Problems 

There are a number of common problems associated with air plants:

  • Rot - Rot is typically caused by overwatering. Water once a week and dry thoroughly upside down. Do not set air plants on damp moss in terrariums. 

  • Under-watering - There is a misconception that air plants require little water since they don't have soil. Establish a regular watering schedule based on the species and indoor conditions. Your plant will tell you when it's thirsty! 

  • Low light - While air plants do not like harsh, direct sun, they still need indirect sunlight for 4-6 hours daily. Plants not receiving enough light will fade in color, and the leaves will become soft. 

  • Over-fertilizing - Too much fertilizer can burn the leaves. Lightly mist your air plant with low-nitrogen bromeliad fertilizer just once a month. 

  • Poor air circulation - Lack of airflow can cause rot. Avoid clumping too many air plants together and use terrariums with large openings to circulate air. 

  • Pests - Air plants are less susceptible to pests since they're not grown in soil, but they may get mealy bugs and scale. A plant must be quarantined and sprayed with pesticide if it becomes infested. 

How To Propagate Air Plants

Remove the offsets, called 'pups,' from the mother plant's base to propagate air plants. Wait until the pups are about one-third to one-half of the mother plant's size.

Air plants can not be propagated through leaf or stem cuttings. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do air plants work?

Air plants absorb nutrients from the air, rain, and debris that collects around them via their leaves. Their 'roots' are only used to attach the plant to surfaces; they do not absorb nutrients as other plant roots do. 

How long do air plants live?

Most live for 2-5 years with proper air plant care. However, they produce enough pups to live indefinitely through propagation. Monthly fertilization will encourage more pup growth. 

Do air plants need water?

Yes! In nature, air plants thrive in hot, humid climates. They should be submerged in water once a week and thoroughly dried upside down. While getting to know your new plants, monitor them for signs of over- or under-watering and then set a regular watering schedule.

Are air plants good for people with allergies?

There are no known allergies to air plants. Like other houseplants, air plants reduce carbon dioxide and cleanse indoor air by removing toxins, heavy metals, dust, mold, and bacteria -- making them excellent for people with allergies! 

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