Garden, Gardens

our definitive guide to air plants

Stodels Nursery


The naturally curving form and robust texture of an air plant makes it distinctive and yet every plant is unique. In the typical air plant, long, protruding leaves are often framed by an array of small spikes with no roots or need for soil. So how does this exotic plant survive?

Air plants survive with three essential elements - food, air and light. Nutrients for growth and sustenance are absorbed from air and water. Unlike conventional plants, where absorption takes place within the roots, in air plants, nutrients are absorbed by the leaves. These striking plants start off as pups, which then mature and bloom and with a life expectancy of either several days or a few months, these plants are particularly unique to the green kingdom.

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There are over 650 varieties of these plants in the green kingdom, some of which have tongue-twisting names - Xerographica, Seleriana, Pruinosa, Melanocrater. Each species differs in colour, shape and texture but common features of all air plants include:

  • Air plants do not grow in soil but anchor themselves to other surfaces, including other plants, although they are not parasitic so they don't harm the host plant
  • Durability is the most prominent feature of air plants - they can endure extreme weather conditions without getting damaged
  • They are not toxic to animals

air plant species

We've put together a list of the most recognisable air plant species you can use to bring some green magic into your living space:

Ionantha Guatemala

This variation is easily recognisable by its spiky appearance and the red colour that develops in its centre as it matures and blooms. It flowers under the right conditions and develops a purple spike that ends with yellow flowers.

ionantha-guatemala-in-its-green-state Photo source: Air Plant Design Studio

Xerographica Air Plant

With its wide, curled leaves, the Xerographica air plant makes a beautiful decor feature. As it matures, its leaves wrap around each other to form a bulbuous structure that resembles a green vegetable. This particular species hails from Guatemala and Mexico and can handle direct sunlight for brief periods of time.

Photo source: Air Plant Design Studio Photo source: Air Plant Design Studio 

Bulbosa Belize Air Plant

As a variant that is somewhat larger than the average air plant species, the Bulbosa Belize can grow up to 30cm high. This species flowers and produces a red bloom with purple flowers. With its reaching, twisting leaves it has an almost extraterrestrial appearance. It typically grows in forested areas and mangroves along the coastline of Brazil and Central America.

bulbosa_belize_air_plant_1024x1024 Photo source: Air Plant Design Studio

Argentea Air Plant

With its wispy appearance, the Argentea has a whimsical character that's perfect for displaying in a hanging glass orb. This species is native to Cuba and is less common than other variations. If allowed to blossom, it produces a long, slender bloom that extends from its centre and releases a flower from the tip.

argentea-air-plant_1_1024x1024 Photo source: Air Plant Design Studio

Tectorum Ecuador Air Plant

Now here's an air plant that you very rarely see. The Tectorum Ecuador species is a very unique, premium variation that can be hard to find. With its fuzzy, wispy appearance, its leaves look like tiny ferns and have thousands of trichomes or hair-like extensions. These trichomes make it one of the most drought-tolerant air plants, so they don't need weekly soaks. A weekly misting will do.

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Stodels Nursery shares their top tips for taking care of these green delights, whether yours is in a jar or suspended in a beautiful terrarium.

Caring for them

Water Them Wisely

Air plants like bright, indirect sunlight and water. It is best to either mist them or soak them. If you opt to mist them, do this three times a week by spraying the top and bottom of the plant and letting the water run into the plant along the leaves. You can also completely submerse them in water for a few minutes.

Get to know your plant by handling the leaves. After watering, the leaves will feel stiff and full of water and when in need of water they will be softer to the touch and the plant will be lighter in colour.

Avoid Direct Light

Generally, no direct sun is recommended. Rather opt for bright, indirect light, fluorescent office lighting or shaded patio areas. Some varieties can handle some early morning sun - this will allow them to "blush" (change colour) before they bloom.

Use Fertiliser

They need to be fertilised. Use Multifeed Flowergro twice a month. It is great for blooming and reproduction. Other water-soluble fertilisers such as Nitrosol, Hortisol and Go Organic can be used at 1/4 strength if Multifeed Flowergro fertiliser is not available.

For more information on air plants please visit stodels.com

Read more about how to infuse your space with living beauty in our November 2016 issue.