Skip to main content

How to grow a tillandsia ionantha, a colorful, blooming air plant

Tillandsia ionanthas, also known commonly as sky plants, are just one of over 500 tillandsia varieties. It’s popular among air plant enthusiasts and home gardeners because of the stunning grayish-green leaves that deepen in color as they grow. As far as air plants go, the tillandsia ionantha is a rather adaptable one that needs little maintenance, which makes it a great option for beginners who aren’t used to caring for plants that don’t grow in soil (that’s right!) — but how does that affect its care?

A tillandsia ionantha with green leaves
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Benefits of growing air plants

Growing a tillandsia ionantha — and any air plant, really — has a few benefits beyond sprucing up your space. Some are similar to those of regular houseplants:

  1. Plants help reduce stress. Houseplants, including air plants, have the ability to help you feel calmer, happier, and more relaxed in your space
  2. Air plants reduce certain indoor pollutants. Many plants have this capability, and air plants are no exception. They remove certain amounts of carbon dioxide from the air as they photosynthesize, as well as removing other pollutants to help purify and improve air quality.

A unique benefit to air plants, though, is that they don’t require soil to grow — and the tillandsia ionantha is no different. Because they don’t need to be in soil (and won’t thank you if you plant them in it), tillandsia ionanthas are a versatile houseplant that are perfect for urban homes and small spaces. Need a desk plant but don’t want a dirt mess? Get a tillandsia ionantha. Have a blank spot on your wall that you don’t know what to do with? Get a tillandsia ionantha. They can grow beautifully on shelves, on wood, or in air-plant-specific holders. And as long as they have proper lighting, they can thrive anywhere.

Caring for your tillandsia ionantha

Tillandsia ionanthas love warm, humid environments kept between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They can still survive and thrive in drier climates, as long as you keep up with a regular misting schedule to increase humidity (and have a space humidifier, if you need) and keep them happy. Be wary of over-misting, though, and pay attention to how your air plant is responding. Especially if it’s your first air plant, it can take a bit of trial and error to figure out the right amount.

Conversely, cooler temperatures in the winter will help encourage flowering. Just be sure to stay within the preferred range so that you don’t take the plant out of its comfort zone and cause undue stress.

One of the biggest changes in air plant care from standard houseplant care is fertilization. Liquid fertilizers are usually added to the soil, so is it even possible to fertilize an air plant? Surprisingly, yes! There are air plant fertilizers that you can add to a misting spray (following the directions) to feed your tillandsia ionantha no more than twice a month during the summertime.

Light needs: Indirect light is best; strong, full sunlight can dry out the plant
Water needs: Light misting a few times a week, possibly more if you live in a drier climate; allow the air plant to dry upside down so water doesn’t get trapped in the leaves; soaking is not recommended

My tillandsia ionantha is blooming! Now what?

When your tillandsia ionantha blooms, it’s positively stunning. The flowers are small, ranging from white to yellow in color, and bloom at the tops of purple shoots. While blooming, the leaves on the tillandsia ionantha also develop pink or reddish hues.

Unfortunately, the beauty of these flowers is a bit bittersweet. Tillandsia ionanthas only bloom once during their lifetime, and it happens when they’re close to dying. It can happen at any time, whether it’s after only having the plant for a year or several years. Don’t worry, though! After it blooms, a well-cared-for tillandsia ionantha will produce a few pups before dying. With luck, you’ll be able to separate them and have more for your collection.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to propagate tillandsia ionantha pups

Successfully propagating tillandsia ionantha pups is fairly easily! Once they start sprouting as offshoots from the parent plant, wait until they’re about half the size and then separate them with a pair of sterilized shears or scissors, or a sterilized knife. If done properly, you’ll have a new, growing tillandsia ionantha to display proudly in your collection!

What to do if there are pests on your air plant

Perhaps one of the most fabulous aspects of growing tillandsia ionanthas in your home is that very rarely do they attract pests. Most insects and mites are drawn to houseplants in soil, especially ones with soggy soil or weakened foliage. Because air plants don’t grow in dirt, their chances of becoming infested are very low. If you do happen to see a bug or two on your tillandsia ionantha, don’t sweat it. Removing them is as easy as rinsing it off and hanging it upside down to dry. It’s truly a low-maintenance, minimal-care plant.

Editors' Recommendations

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…
How to care for philodendrons, a decorative indoor plant
Keep your philodendron happy with these tips
Philodendron in a small peach colored flower pot

When it comes to amazing office plants and low-maintenance potted plants, philodendrons certainly stand out. From taller tree philodendron to trailing philodendron vines, there’s sure to be a species of this plant that fits your lifestyle and aesthetic preferences. Philodendron care is easy enough for beginners, and their stunning foliage makes them worth growing, even if you’re experienced enough to grow more finicky plants. To get started growing your own philodendrons, we’ve put together this philodendron care guide.
Planting philodendrons

Philodendrons are most commonly kept as indoor plants, and they are well suited to standing pots, hanging baskets, and window boxes. You can even grow them as a kokedama. They can grow in almost any container, as long as there are drainage holes. Philodendrons appreciate wet soil, but they can still develop root rot if left in standing water, so well-draining containers and soil are important.

Read more
The best large indoor plants for an instant statement this spring
Add these houseplants to your indoor space for seasonal flair
Areca palm

When you first foray into the world of houseplants, you might be tempted to pick out dozens of small indoor plants to fill out your collection. But sometimes less is more — having one statement floor plant can make a major impact when it comes to home styling. This year's large houseplant trend is a stark departure from the maximalist indoor jungle aesthetic of the early pandemic days. Now, it’s all about a measured approach to collecting houseplants and integrating them into your space.

While choosing a big houseplant seems straightforward, it can be a daunting undertaking if you’re a novice to indoor greenery. If you’re feeling a bit intimidated, read this guide to learn how to choose the best large indoor plants for your home. 
What counts as a large indoor plant, and why should you get one?

Read more
Jade plant care: A complete grower’s guide
Keep your jade plant happy and healthy with these tips
A small jade plant in a pot with other succulents

If you love the way trees look but don’t have the space or time to care for them, then why not opt for a jade plant instead? This lovely plant is shaped just like a miniature tree, but in actuality, it's a succulent. Jade plant care is simple, and these cute plants make marvelous house or office plants.

Under the right conditions, they can even bloom, growing many small white or pale pink flowers. If you want to try growing jade plants in your home, then this is the care guide for you. From planting to propagating, we’ll walk you through all the jade plant care steps you need to know to keep your plant healthy.
Planting your jade

Read more