From the forests, mountains, and deserts of Central and South America comes the airplant. Cute, spiny, spiky little plants that look ordinary at first glance but are actually quite different from most of the plants you probably have ever encountered. These “airplants” come from the genus Tillandsia which encompasses over 650 species. Airplant is a common name for plants within the genus.
Most Tillandsia species are epiphytes. This means they can grow without soil while being attached to other plants. If we get even more specific, you will find that there are many aerophytes within this genus. These are our beloved airplants.
Historically, aerophytes developed without roots so they could grow on shifting desert sands. Thin-leafed varieties would tend to grow in areas with more rain while the thicker varieties came from areas more subject to drought. These fascinating plants can absorb water through their leaves. Moisture is taken from rain, dew, dust, and decaying leaves through special structures called trichomes. They drink dust.
The small roots they have are mostly used as anchors. Most of the magic with plant really takes place in the leaves. Aren’t they magnificent?
Although not normally kept for their flowers, some airplants will bloom on a regular basis. Aside from a few special exceptions, the flowers from these plants are usually small. The color may change depending on the bloom cycle. Some flowers are fragrant while others are not.
Some airplants may experience what is called “blushing.” This occurs when the leaves change from green to red. This typically occurs right before the plant is about to flower. Blushing is an indication that the plant is monocarpic. This means the plant will bloom and die soon after. 🙁
The airplant is a fun deviation from what you typically see at the flower section of any home department store. They make for excellent gifts and conversation pieces. The trick is finding one. I suspect they will be more widely available with time. You can keep the airplant in a more discrete pot or go all-in and hang them from string them up in mid-air. The airplant is an incredible work of nature.