Macro closeup of tiny plant in terrarium

Spring is in the air (plants)

Spring is here and many of us may feel an urge to grow something green. If you don’t have a garden to tend at your house, condo or even retirement community, there are still options at your disposal. Indoor “air plants” are a hot trend in the houseplant world, and, as research has proven, growing them can offer a host of health benefits, from a more positive outlook to improved breathing.

What is an air plant?

The name is a bit of a misnomer: members of the Tillandsia genus are called air plants, not because they survive on air, but because they require no soil. Air plants are epiphytic, meaning they grow harmlessly on other plants, poking out from the crooks or branches of trees, or from rocks, rooftops and even power lines. The roots are the plant’s anchors, fastening it to its host.

Native to South and Central America, parts of Mexico and the southern-most U.S. states, Tillandsia are covered in specialized scales which absorb rain, dew, dust, decaying leaves and insect matter as nutrients. They produce sprouts or “pups” at their base, which, when they reach about one-third the size of the adult plant, can be gently separated to grow on their own.

Hanging terrariums with plant in indoor environmentWhere do I buy them?

Plant nurseries and garden centres all over Canada sell Tillandsia; you can also order them online. Air plants are inexpensive; a popular single Jonantha baby plant is about $3.

How do I plant them?

You don’t need a pot to plant an air plant; mount it instead (using twine, a nail, fishing line, or even glue) on a board, a piece of wood or branch, a tile, or in a glass terrarium. You can also buy a special Tillandsia glass hanging globe with holes for air flow to display your air plant prominently in your home or retirement suite.

How do I care for them?

Air plants need bright, indirect sunlight, close to an east-, south- or west-facing window. They can also be grown under fluorescent lighting. While they can survive in periods of drought, air plants need to be watered at least once a week. Experts recommend a thorough rinsing under running water or soaking them in a water bath for 20 to 30 minutes. Gently shake them to remove any excess water and then place them to dry in an area with good air circulation. Every couple of days, mist them with a spray bottle.