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A complete guide to the Tillandsia aeranthos, an air plant with striking leaves

Tillandsia aeranthos: An easygoing and beautiful addition to your indoor garden

You've probably seen those sometimes odd, sometimes colorful spiky-looking plants at garden centers, usually in a bed of rocks. You've probably also wondered how in the world they manage to survive, much less grow. The answer: They're air plants, aka Tillandsia! No, they can't live on air alone, but it can sure seem like it sometimes.

Believe it or not, the Tillandsia aeranthos (and other members of the Tillandsia species) are part of the bromeliad family. In their native habitat, these air plants are epiphytic, meaning they get their moisture and nutrients from rainwater and whatever they're attached to, such as trees, branches, and even rocks. Best of all, the Tillandsia aeranthos is an easy-to-care-for air plant variety that grows fast and is great for beginners.

Difficulty

Easy

What You Need

  • Water mister

  • Sterilized shears or scissors

A display of Tillandsia air plants
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Benefits of growing a Tillandsia aeranthos in your home

Most Tillandsia aeranthos plants are kept as houseplants, as they look great in a terrarium or as an accent on a desk. Perhaps the biggest benefit to growing any air plant is that it doesn’t create the same kind of mess as regular houseplants do. It doesn't need to be grown in soil or in containers, so you don’t have to worry about how to repot it when it gets too big.

And since you can display it in any way your imagination desires, there’s minimal investment in plant stands, which makes the air plant a great choice for those living in smaller spaces.

Other benefits of having these plants in your home include:

  • They lower stress levels.
  • They’re nontoxic to pets and humans.
  • They reduce pollen allergies by trapping dust and pollen particles.
  • They remove trace amounts of carbon dioxide and toxins from the air.
Air plant misting
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to care for a Tillandsia aeranthos

Because air plants aren't planted in soil, the hardest part of caring for them is getting the proper amount of water to the leaves. (Yes, the leaves. Air plants absorb water through their foliage, as opposed to their roots.) Underwatering and overwatering are the most common issues home gardeners run into with these plants.

If underwatered, the leaves of the Tillandsia aeranthos will turn brown, dry out, and start to curl. If overwatered, your plant becomes susceptible to rot that can ultimately kill it.

Step 1: Place the air plant in an area with filtered light.

Avoid direct sunlight because it can burn the leaves.

Step 2: During the warmer months, mist your Tillandsia aeranthos a couple of times a week to keep the humidity levels up.

Step 3: Instead of misting, you may soak the leaves once a week for approximately 15 minutes.

Take care to leave the bulb of the plant out of the water and let the plant dry upside down. Not only does this allow any moisture to drain out of the leaves, but it also keeps water from getting trapped in tight spaces where it can cause rot.

Step 4: Reduce watering in the winter to approximately once every two to three weeks.

If your plant's leaves begin to curl, water it a bit more often, but not as often as during the summer.

Tillandsia aeranthos on a tree
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Does the Tillandsia aeranthos need to be planted in soil?

Nope! Although it can be planted in a soilless potting mix outdoors in hardiness zones 9 through 11, you’re more likely to be growing this plant indoors due to its versatility as a houseplant.

Since the Tillandsia aeranthos absorbs water through its foliage as opposed to its roots, planting it in soil is unnecessary (and detracts from one of the drawing points of having one in your home).

Tillandsia aeranthos blooming
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Do Tillandsia aeranthos plants bloom?

Yes! When cared for properly, your Tillandsia aeranthos will flower for a few weeks during the summer. The pink shades are complemented by blue- or violet-colored flowers, which are usually only a few centimeters in size. Even with a healthy plant, blooming only occurs every few years. That’s why many people will choose to let the clusters grow together instead of separating them; that way, a different plant will flower each summer.

Air plants in water
Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to propagate your Tillandsia aeranthos

Because the Tillandsia aeranthos grows offshoots that clump together naturally, it’s an easy plant to propagate. Similar to a spider plant, all you have to do is separate the offshoot from the parent plant when it’s strong enough to live on its own.

A healthy Tillandsia aeranthos will start producing multiple pups from the base of the plant, which you can choose to leave clustered if you want; however, if you’re hoping to give one as a gift or simply expand your collection, you’ll want to remove the offset safely from the parent.

Step 1: Once the pup is about a third of the size of its parent plant, use sterilized scissors or shears to cut as close to the base as possible without damaging either plant.

Step 2: If a cutting is successful and viable, new roots will start forming within a few months. At that point, the plant can be moved to its new permanent location.

A flowering tillandsia ionantha
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Things to remember about your Tillandsia aeranthos

The most common issues home gardeners struggle with regarding these plants are proper sunlight and regular watering. If you notice any indication that your plant is burning, drying out, or rotting, it’s time to make some adjustments.

Step 1: Unfortunately, more often than not, a sign of rot can’t be reversed. If the rot is only on the outer leaves, you can try removing them safely and adjusting your watering schedule to see if that solves the problem. However, if your air plant is already falling apart, it’s too far gone.

Step 2: Conversely, if your air plant is drying out, you can always try giving it a good soak for a few hours to see if that helps correct the problem. Some air plant enthusiasts even suggest soaking for 12 hours, though we’ll leave the length of time to your discretion.

The Tillandsia aeranthos, along with other air plants, can be quite rewarding to have in your home, if only for the unique look of each variety. They come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Once you get the hang of their care requirements, air plants can make quite a remarkable addition to your collection.

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Kiera Baron
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kiera Baron is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding digital artist, based in Upstate NY. She is currently one…
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