Maker Movement: Looking to go wild? Consider air plants

“These are fake, right?”

Every day at Far and Wide we get questions about plants and plant care. Whether this is someone’s first foray into plant ownership or a new plant variety they haven’t seen before, I love seeing so many people interested in growing and caring for their own little jungle.

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More often than not, the plant at the root of all this uncertainty is the air plant.

Perhaps the name is a bit misleading — air plants require more than just air to survive. The fact they can sit out on a shelf or countertop without soil and thrive certainly doesn’t help with the confusion.

Add a few misleading care tips floating around the internet and even those who recognize these plants often have lots of questions.

Tillandsia, commonly referred to as air plants, are members of the Bromeliaceae family.

While colourful bromeliads have been easily accessible at plant shops and garden centres for awhile now, Tillandsia have only recently become widely available.

Native to the mountains, forests and deserts of South and Central America, there are more than 650 species of Tillandsia, most of which are epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants but are not parasitic).

During a trip to Peru last fall. I was able to see Tillandsia growing wild in the crooks and branches of trees along the hike to Machu Picchu, a cool experience having cared for a handful of air plants at home over the past few years.

After the initial uncertainty subsides, many people aren’t sure what to do with their Tillandsia once they get it home. Regardless of the type of houseplant you have, a great way to begin caring for a plant is to learn what its natural habitat is like and then evaluate your space to adjust accordingly.

As many common Tillandsia varieties grow in lush tropical forests, they require humidity and bright indirect light. In nature, these plants experience regular moisture and warm temperatures that allow the plant to completely dry, often in the same day.

Have a look around your space. How much light does the plant receive? What’s the temperature and how does it vary from season to season? Is it very dry where you live?

We’ve found the climate in Kamloops is too dry to rely on misting alone to deliver the necessary moisture, contrary to what the internet may say.

To start, soak your Tillandsia in a bowl of room temperature water every other week for five to 10 minutes. Once watered, it’s important to let your air plant dry completely, as they are susceptible to rot. I set mine out on a clean tea towel on the kitchen counter and invert them to allow any water to drain away from the plant.

From here, adjust accordingly for the needs of your plant. You can mist your plant once a week if you find it is drying out too quickly — the tips of the leaves will be crispy.

A contributing factor to the popularity of these cute little plants is they grow well in unique settings. Without the need for a pot or soil, Tillandsia have the ability to be used in non-traditional ways, including suspended installations and mounted wall art.

When it comes to displaying your air plants, some air circulation is really your only limit. I’ve opted to simply set my plants out in glass terrariums and style them among my treasures on some open shelving at home.

Boring, I know.

It’s a great time to be a plant fanatic, with more and more varieties being sustainably produced, including the air plant, and access to these plants open to the general public like never before. Add to that a breadth of local knowledge and help available at our neighbourhood nurseries and I really do believe that anyone who wants to can own and care for plants.

Small apartment? Pet considerations? Need something low maintenance? Tillandsia check all these boxes, by the way.

Calli Duncan is co-owner of Makeshift Kamloops and Far and Wide. For more, go online to farandwidekamloops.com.

© 2018 Kamloops This Week

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