Thursday, February 5, 2015

Going South In February

Doing a bit of daydreaming this morning. In my mind's eye I am wandering along a soft sandy beach, with gentle waves lapping at the edge, birds singing, a warm sun soothing away my every care...

Not. Going. To. Happen.

But I can, in my mind's eye, visit the tropics! I can pretend I'm in a dense forest in Central South America, looking at Tillandsia plants. They grow all over the trees and vines around me, right up in the air. Some of them have roots, but the roots are only to attach the plants to their supports. The plants are mostly green, but some are grey with pink or blue flowers. There is a lot of Spanish Moss around and some bright coloured birds flitting about. I blink and now I'm wandering around a bit of a desert... sand, rocks, dry stream bed, very grey coloured Tillandsias tucked into crevices. It's hot. It's bright. A surprising number of birds, busy around various cactus-like plants. Blink again and poof! I'm in a damp shady jungle. It's so wet the humidity drips off my nose. More Tillandsias, now mostly green and shiny. Weird noises, off.

Such is the wild and wonderful world of the Air Plant.

There are about 560 species of Tillandsias, give or take a few. Nobody is really sure as they haven't been studied all that much. They are native to Central and South America and the more southerly States as well as the West Indies. They are epiphytes - growing attached to, but not taking any nourishment from, structures such as trees, rocks, logs or sandy soils. They do have roots, but these are for holding on, not for extracting nutrients. They get what they need from the water that falls on them. Some of the minerals they need are dissolved in the rain that falls on them, and some are dissolved in the water that drips down on them from the canopy above. The leaves are covered with special scales that trap moisture and release it slowly as the plant dries. The plants also use what is called the CAM cycle of growth, that is, their stomata open at night and the plant is active during the cooler damper part of the 24-hour day. During the day the stomata close and the plant stores the energy it develops from photosynthesis, for use during the night.

So in my daydream I'm picking Tillandsias that look new and interesting and carefully packing them to bring home and grow in dark dry snowy Ottawa. Luckily, I'm a potter in my other life and have made some fun holders for them.

tillandsia pots

The one on the left is about 9" high and the bunny is actually a little smaller. I can easily either spritz the plants where they are, or take them to the sink for a good soak. Air Plants need a good soak, followed by a good drying, 2 or 3 times a week. Use regular tap or rain water, not softened water (too much salt) or distilled water (no nutrients). They should also get a bit of fertilizer mixed at 1/4 strength once a month or so.

These pottery holders can be immersed in the sink, and can be scrubbed if fertilizer builds up on them. The plants are glued on with E6000, a clear-drying waterproof glue that won't hurt them.

Hang your Air Plant in an East or West window and make sure it gets bright light but not too much direct sunlight. Do not forget it in the summer! You can take it outside and hang it under a deciduous tree, but then, don't forget it in the fall!

Wherever you put it, look at it regularly, and pretend you are in the tropics, and there is no February.


  1. You've got me intrigued. I'm off to research Tillandsias. Your pottery holders are lots of fun.

    1. Yes, they are intriguing! If you get one, email me your mailing address and I'll mail you a holder as my 'thank you' for all your kind comments!