At a glance, Air Plants seem to be shrouded in mystery. They grow without soil, they’re unique and exotic, and produce some of the most varied blossoms in the plant kingdom! Together we will remove some of that mystery today, and take a look at the Complete Life-Cycle of Air Plants!
In this article, you’ll discover:
- Where Baby Air Plants Come From
- How to Purchase Healthy Air Plants
- What Air plants Need to Flourish
- All About Indoor and Outdoor Air Plants
- Caring for Air Plants
- What’s Happening When an Air Plant Blossoms
- How to Procreate your Air Plant(s)
- When Air Plants Die (and why)
- Tips for Increasing an Air plant’s Life Span
When we want to learn about anything at all, finding its origin is key! So let’s begin by taking a look at Air plants in their natural environment.
The Air Plant Life-Span in Nature
If you live in a tropical or sub-tropical environment, chances are you’ve already seen Air Plants in their natural habitat. If you don’t and haven’t seen them in nature, please allow me to “paint the scene” for you.
You’re walking along, wiping sweat from your brow and swatting mosquitoes when you notice an unusual plant attached to the side of a tree.
Is it a vine? No. Is it some sort of parasitic plant? No. “What could it be?” you wonder! Chances are, it’s an Air plant!
We don’t know when the very first Air Plant formed and attached itself to a tree, but we do know they’ve survived into the modern-day, where we can study them in their natural environment. Were you to watch the same plant for more than a year in nature (and I have) you’ll notice some things about its life-span. These things are:
- The Wild Air Plant will attach in a spot where it gets abundant sunlight while still being in the shade.
- A wild Air Plant will flourish when the climate is humid and has frequent rains, or be spindly and sparse in high heat and arid conditions.
- Between the first and second year of its life, the wild Air Plant will produce blossoms.
- If we could watch the wild Air Plant 24/7, we’d see the blossoms turn to seed. Those seeds will scatter below the parent plant (or on it) and begin to grow. Alternatively, the seeds may be picked up by a wild animal or bird and scattered to a new location when the animal eliminates them.
- Were we able to get close enough, we’d notice pups on the parent plant that, when left untouched, will form what’s known as an Air Plant Cluster (or Clump) around the parent plant.
- After the wild Air Plant’s second year and its blossoming, depending on the natural climate conditions, the parent plant will die off, leaving just the cluster of pups to go on in its place. This can take months to happen, or even several years!
Where do Baby Air Plants Come From?
As we learned from Air Plants in Nature (just above) baby Air plants form from the seeds of the parent plant’s blossom, or from the pups produced on the parent plant, itself. Unfortunately, as with the chicken and the egg, we’ve no way to know which came first, the Air Plant or its seed!
An Air Plant’s blossom will produce varying amounts of seeds, depending on plant variety (there are over 400!) and the number of flowers on the blossom. The parent plant may form only one pup, or it might surprise you with a “litter” of 3-5 pups!
We have an advantage in procreating Air plants over nature in that we can nurture the parent plant to be healthy and prolific in reproduction! The healthier the parent, the more it will produce. Or reproduce, rather, LOL!
Purchasing Healthy Air Plants
A long and prosperous Air Plant life span begins with a healthy start! You can buy Air Plants online, from a plant nursery or garden department of a store, from a specialty shop or even from a human being who raises them.
If you buy an Air Plant more than six inches in diameter, understand that you are not purchasing a baby. Air Plants are slow growers, and you can be sure a bigger sized Air Plant has already been growing for some time. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just “FYI”.
In fact, if you desire large Air Plants for your collection, I would recommend buying one that’s already large because of that slow growth factor I mentioned. If you can get the plant’s approximate age when buying, do so. Of course, this won’t always be an option. You can safely assume that an Air plant that’s between one and two inches in length is fairly young, and a great plant to add to your collection!
I started my collection with an assortment pack I found on Amazon and was delighted with the quality and variety of plants. I was further motivated to buy when I learned the seller works with animal rescue organizations. If you’d like to score my recommendation for a starter kit, you can grab it from Amazon via this convenient link.
PLEASE NOTE: If you buy your Air Plant(s)online, arrange the delivery for a day you’ll be home to receive it. Because Air Plants are living things, you’ll want them to spend the shortest possible time in a shipping container.
If shopping is your thing, and you live in areas that feature Air Plants in plant nurseries and stores, you’ll have the advantage of a “bird’s eye view” with which to select your plants.
Things to Look for When Buying an Air Plant that Promote Long Life
- Leaves that are supple, but not squishy.
- No brown tips or brown spots on leaves.
- A “tidy” root area.
- No pinched leaves or stem for mounting.
What Air Plants Need for a Long Life-Span
Your Air Plant care regime will begin as soon as the plant comes in your front door! Make it fun by having your camera on hand for this special event. The camera will also be useful if the plants have damage from delivery (if applicable). The first 3 things to do when you get your Air Plant home are:
- Gently remove the Air Plant from its packaging (if applicable) and examine the plant closely for any damages or noteworthy features.
- Water the Air plant by submerging it in water or misting it with a spray bottle mist.
- Place your new Air Plant(s) in a location that is well-lit by indirect lighting. Complete instructions to follow…
Proper Lighting for Long-Living Air Plants
I’ve already mentioned the importance of bright and indirect lighting for Air Plants but may have left you with some questions. I will clarify what I meant for you right here. Air Plants will best thrive when they are receiving 8-12 hours of light every day. Placing them in direct sunlight can cause their delicate leaves to become scorched.
For outdoor Air Plants, indirect lighting means in the shade or another shelter from the sun, like a porch or house roof overhang. My outdoor Air Plants are on my covered lanai, safe from the scorching Florida sun.
For indoor Air Plants, indirect lighting means placing them in a bright room near a window. You may display the plants in the window if direct sunlight isn’t pelting it all day long. The window acts as a magnifier for the sunlight and can allow the Air plant(s) to get scorched tips.
If your home leans toward the shady side, or you want Air Plants in a room without windows (an office, for example) you may want to consider artificial lighting for a longer Air Plant life-span. I did some research and found a popular and affordable grow lamp option on Amazon for you. To check it out, you need only follow this link directly to Amazon.
Good lighting is the easiest thing you can provide for nurturing your Air Plant for long life!
Air Plants & Proper Watering for a Long Life-Span
After their initial watering upon their “home-coming, your Air plants will need to be watered about every third day if you’re spray-misting, and about every ten days if you water them by submerging. And yes, the water matters!
Hands down, rainwater will promote the healthiest and longest life span for your Air Plant! If collecting rainwater isn’t an option for you, the next best water for long life is bottled spring water. There are three kinds of water I NEVER recommend. The first is tap water. Often, tap water has elements added to it that aren’t necessary and can even be harmful to the plant! Fluoride and chlorine are just two examples. The other two kinds of water that can be detrimental to your Air Plant(s) are distilled water and purified water. Those two types of water have minerals removed from them that are beneficial to the long life of your plant.
I’ve written a simple-to-follow article with the specific watering instructions for you. Please follow this link to check it out.
Good Nutrition for Long Living Air Plants
Chances are, an outdoor Air Plant will never need fertilizer. Here’s why: Air plants absorb nutrients through hair-like cells on their surface called trichomes. These trichomes collect ambient moisture, as well as particles from the air like decaying vegetation and insect matter. These elements are nutritionally utilized at night when the plant’s pores (called stoma) open and photosynthesis occurs.
You may consider using fertilizer on a seasonal basis, though, a “supplement” to your outdoor Air Plant’s nutrition. Fertilizer, in this instance, is for fortification and will strengthen the plant.
Indoor Air Plants, however, will depend solely on fertilizer for their nutrition. They will clean the air in your home better than any other plants (according to scientific research) but won’t find much in that air for use in their nutritional needs. Not just any fertilizer will do, though!
A little further along, you’ll learn why regular fertilizers and plant foods will KILL your Air Plant when we discuss the things that are TOXIC to them. You MUST use a fertilizer that has been formulated for tillandsia and/or bromeliads. Many plants shops won’t carry specialized fertilizer, but don’t fret!
I found an economical and effective brand right on Amazon for you to have on hand. You’ll find it at the end of this handy link.
Whatever brand of fertilizer you end up getting, follow the label instructions EXACTLY. Over-fertilizing (or under-fertilizing) your Air Plants could prove deadly! The correct amount will lean your Air Plant(s) toward the longest life possible.
Toxins That Shorten your Air Plant’s Life-Span
I mentioned earlier that regular fertilizers can kill an Air plant. That’s because they may contain zinc or boron, two ingredients that are FATAL for Air Plants. Please refer to the items on the handy infographic just above for the complete list of Air Plant toxins.
Always be aware of what your Air Plant’s leaves and roots are touching. Additionally, take note of the elements in the air being collected by your Air Plant’s trichomes. Losing an Air Plant to toxins would be sad, and it’s avoidable!
Indoor Air Plants or Out: Which Live Longer?
I am not intentionally being vague when I answer that question with a rousing “It Depends!” Healthy Air Plants living in favorable conditions will live about the same amount of time whether they live indoors or outdoors. That being said, it is true that the outdoor Air plants will face more fluctuations in their living conditions. Seasons change, traffic passes by, and the wind can whip! For this reason alone, your indoor Air Plants MIGHT have a slight advantage in their overall life-span.
All About Air Plant Blossoms and Long Life
As you discovered today, your healthy Air Plant will blossom as it enters its reproduction cycle. The plant is now mature and will be heading toward the end of its life-cycle. Don’t grieve yet, though, it’s a process. The Air Plant won’t die “of natural causes” until it’s attended to the duty of reproducing! I want to reiterate this applies to healthy Air Plants that have had their needs met over their lifetime.
The blossom will most likely take form in the center of the Air Plant, and your first clue will likely be an emerging new leaf of a different color. It will stay closed tightly for a time period determined by the Air Plant’s variety. This can be from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.
I like to take pictures daily during this time to watch the bloom develop until it finally bursts open. The two photos that follow depict a three-day difference in my Tillandsia.
Blossoming heralds the possible arrival of Air Plant pups! Oh, that’s exciting to experience, I can tell you for sure. Some of my Air Plants have pups on them right now!
Continue reading to learn what to do with those pups!
Procreating Air Plants for Long Life
If an Air Plant is healthy and has bloomed, chances are it’s going to soon have (or already have) pups on it. The pups will form near the base of the plant. Take caution! They may be hiding under a browning leaf! This is normal, and for the pup’s protection as it begins its new life.
The leaf can easily be snipped away gently with sharp scissors. Snipping away the dying leaf will expose the new pup to light and moisture.
Pups can also form out in the open on the plant. Additionally, the Air Plant’s blossom will turn to seed, and those seeds have the potential to produce pups. That’s something to see!
Any pups can be removed from the parent plant with sharp scissors when they reach from half an inch in length to an inch. If you remove all plants, the parent plant will eventually die “of natural causes” in a couple of months to a couple of years. This is dependant upon the Air Plant’s health, strength, and living conditions.
Alternatively, you can leave the pups attached to the parent plant (and let the seedlings attach to it) to form what is called an Air Plant Cluster (or Clump). When a cluster is formed, the parent plant will be assimilated at the end of its natural life cycle. Again, depending on the above-mentioned elements, this will take from a couple of months to several years.
What is an Air Plant’s Life-Span?
Alas, all living things will die. Air Plants don’t escape the statistics. It is always our desire as plant lovers, to see each plant in our collection have the longest life-span possible before they succumb to old age and become food for other Air Plants.
If you’ve read this article in its entirety, you possess all my best tips for increasing your Air Plant’s life-span! From germination to death from natural causes an Air Plant usually lives a minimum of five years, and some varieties will live well beyond that!
I hope this article has shined some light on the mystery of Air Plants for you! Armed with the knowledge you learned today, you can promote a long and healthy life-span for every Air Plant in your collection! Happy Air Plant gardening!
Samantha Taylor is the Senior Editor of airplantcentral.com. Her love for plants goes back to her childhood when she spent hours in the garden with her dear grandfather. As an aspiring botanist, she started her own business specializing in air plants.