Do Air Plants Die After Flowering? Life Cycle Explained

Air plants are unique and fascinating, but if you’ve read that they die after flowering, you might not want to grow them. Although true, air plants still have relatively long life expectancies, longer than many pot plants.

They go one step further; before they die, most air plants reproduce, leaving behind several mini-replicas of themselves ready to nurture.

An air plant’s lifespan depends on its species and growing environment. In the right conditions, every air plant flowers, but only ever once in its lifetime. The blooming phase signifies full maturity and the onset of the reproduction period. The parent plant lives to support any young shoots; this may be for months, sometimes years. When the mother’s resources deplete, she slowly fades, leaving behind the new life she created.

What are Air Plants?

Air plants are epiphytes; they don’t grow in soil; they absorb moisture, nutrients, and light through their leaves. Each one has thousands of trichomes, hair-like, minute cells that store contents until required.

There are more than 650-species of air plants; their given genus name is Tillandsia, part of the Bromeliad (pineapple) family.

In the wild, they use their small root system to attach to a substrate such as a tree, rock, or cliff face; they are not parasitic but use the host for shelter.

In recent years, air plants have become increasingly popular pieces of interior design. Their unique forms complement all home and office décor.

Do Air Plants Die After Flowering?

It is a double-edged sword, putting all the work in to encourage your air plant to bloom, but knowing that as soon as the flower fades, the plant begins its demise.

The life expectancy of Tillandsia varies. For example, the Tillandsia xerographica is a popular plant and usually takes between 5 and 7 years to bloom. In some instances, the very same plant might take up to 25 years to reach full maturity.

Many Ionantha species reach the peak of their life-cycle within 3-5-years.

air plant flower

Buy air plants from reputable dealers or garden centers to give you some idea how old the plant is at purchase. Otherwise, wait, watch, and care for the plant to bloom; be patient; it may take years.

In the wild, species have specific blooming periods that don’t apply when the plants are live indoors.

Some blooms last for days, others for weeks, and some giant varieties will flower for months.

When the flower dies, cut off the bract (flowering arm) to allow the air plant to focus its energies on keeping its leaves alive.

Don’t think that Tillandsia dies immediately after flowering; it is often a slow process that involves the creation of new life. Some fully mature plants last for several months after flowering, especially when the conditions are perfect.

Is it Possible to Make an Air Plant Bloom Early?

The best way to encourage air plants to bloom is by regular feeds with specialist Tillandsia fertilizer.

air plant fertilizer

Always follow the dosage instructions; over-feeding is a common-known cause of death in air plants; It is called fertilizer burn.

Most plants appreciate a monthly feed and an additional one at the first sign of leaf blush.

Nurseries often use ethylene gas to induce blooming. Tillandsia in flower attract more buyers but have a much shorter life expectancy.

Why do Air Plants Only Bloom Once in Their Lifetime?

Many of us are used to yard plants flowering at least once a year. Many species bloom multiple times each season, providing the gardener deadheads them regularly.

Air plants flower once in their lifetime, simply because that is all they need to do.

In all plants, blooming occurs to attract pollinators and signifies the beginning of the reproduction phase.

The vivacious, bright colors and heady scents of some Tillandsias attract wild bees, birds, insects, and bats.

Air plants kept indoors don’t get pollinated by wildlife, although it is possible to do it yourself. Use a cotton bud and gently collect pollen from the anther. Sprinkle it over the stigma, usually found at the heart of the flower, and let nature take its course.

There is, however, an easier way. When an air plant approaches the blooming phase, keep an eye out for new shoots growing among the leaves at its base.

These offsets are called pups. Most Tillandsia has 3-8; each will grow into a replica of the parent plant.

Does Removing Pups from an Air Plant Kill It?

If you’re lucky enough to see pups on your air plant, good job. The plant is well-cared for and has reached full maturity.

It is a personal choice whether to remove pups or not. If left to grow naturally, they will draw some nutrients from the parent plant.

air plant pup

Clusters of pups grow downwards from the plant, forming clumps. It is a stunning sight, especially when the plants feature in a hanging display.

Removing the pups is a simple task; use sharp scissors and cut as near to the base as possible. Never attempt separating them until they reach at least one-third of the size of the mother.

By removing the pups, you are freeing up some of the parent’s nutrients. It can focus its energy on staying as healthy as possible for longer.

Final Thoughts

Even if you have nurtured it to perfection, all air plants die after flowering. Not immediately after, but when the flower fades, the plant heads towards the end of its life.

Don’t mourn the loss of a much-loved Tillandsia; instead, enjoy all of the new life it has left behind.

Anthony Marsh
Anthony Marsh is a writer with deep roots in the soil of western New Hampshire. His first experiences with gardening were at the age of 10 where his parents allowed him to plant and cultivate his first vegetable garden. Twenty years later he’s continued with his passion for gardening and actively rescues abandoned plant life.