Related to pineapples and other members of the bromeliad family, the unusual-looking tillandsia is sometimes called the "air plant" because it requires no soil. Some tillandsias have no roots. As an epiphyte, the tillandsia receives the water and nutrients it needs from the air, with the help of the fine hairs on its leaves. These hairs give the plant a silver appearance and it is said that the most silver-looking tillandsias come from the most arid climates.
Hailing from Central and South America, the tillandsia is a tropical plant that produces flowers. In the tropical forests they call home, tillandsias grow in trees, often high above ground level. Being a tropical plant, the tillandsia cannot tolerate cold temperatures, so it is often grown as a houseplant in most United States climate zones. Tillandsias occur from sea level to almost 10,000 feet in elevation. They do occur in parts of Florida, so if you live in a southern climate zone, you can grow your tillandsia outdoors.
Types of Tillandsias
Over 500 species of tillandsias exist--from small to large, fuzzy to smooth, with scented or unscented flowers/ The tillandsia genus includes many different varieties, none of which requires soil in order to grow and thrive. More species continue to be discovered.
How to Grow Tillandsia
The tillandsia is a slow-growing plant, but it requires little care or feeding. You can mount your tillandsia on a rock, in a large seashell, or on a piece of driftwood or other wood. Keep your plant in a partially shaded area that is neither too hot nor too cold. If you live in a region that receives winter frosts, you can move your tillandsia indoors in fall. Water your tillandsia at least twice each week, and check that it doesn't remain in standing water afterward. Fertilize your plant once a month between March and October. Use a 1/4 strength dilution of a fertilizer having an NPK ratio of 17-8-22.
Making New Tillandsia Plants
A mature tillandsia will produce shoots called pups at the base of the plant. To propagate your tillandsia, wait until the pups are almost half the size of the plant and then snip them off at their base.
How to Encourage Blooming
A healthy, well-nourished tillandsia should produce the flowers you crave, but you can encourage blooming by feeding it with a plant food that is low in nitrogen, sometimes called a "blossom booster" fertilizer. Begin in March and continue through summer. An effective way to water and fertilize tillandsias is to soak the plant in a sink or bucket of water, into which you have added fertilizer. Allow the plant to remain in this solution for about 10 minutes and then let it drain thoroughly. Repeat this application two to three times each week.