Growing air plants is relatively low maintenance, and once you have established a watering regime, rewarding activity.
It is wise to know how long air plants live before investing in any plants and display accessories.
Tillandsia (the actual Genus name of air plants) flower once in their lifetime. Growers need to practice patience while waiting for a stunning bloom to appear. The beautiful inflorescence heralds the end and beginning of an air plant’s life.
The lifespan of air plants differs by species, growing environment, and the care they receive. In ideal conditions, most species thrive for several years. Tillandsia bloom at the peak of their life cycle; the flower signifies old age is approaching.
Fading blooms often mean death is imminent, but with tender care, air plants will live on for many months, sometimes years after the flower dries up.
Blooming shouldn’t be seen as the start of the end, but new beginnings. As blossoms fade, new shoots and pups grow. The mother plant creates new life, sometimes as many as eight new growths from a single parent plant.
What is an Air Plant?
Unlike traditional plants, air plants don’t need soil to grow. They are epiphytic; they use their roots to anchor themselves to a substrate, often the crook of a tree, rock, or cliff face.
They are not parasitic; they draw nothing from the host; they each co-exist happily.
Air plants use trichomes on their leaves – tiny hair-like pockets – to absorb water, nutrients, and light from the atmosphere.
How do Air Plants Reproduce?
The life cycle of air plants begins when the parent plant reproduces.
Most species of Tillandsia flower once in their lifetime. It often occurs after the plant has fully matured, usually within 1-2 years.
Air plants bloom; their leaves change color. Most varieties blush hues of pink and red until the flower blossoms. Typically, they are vivid shades of red, orange, and purple, forming a breath-taking sight.
The inflorescence remains for several weeks. In the case of the largest air plants, it can last for many months. Eventually, the color fades, and the flower dries up.
It is around this time that new growth appears around the base of the plant. These new shoots are known as pups; the number depends on the species of plant. There are usually between 2-8.
They are a miniature replica of the mother plant and should be left alone until they reach at least one-third of the parent’s size.
At this point, you can propagate them by cutting them cleanly at the base. Soak the plants before drying them thoroughly, before adding them to your display where you can watch them grow and see the life cycle repeat.
If preferred, leave the pups attached to the mother for a while longer. These clusters make a stunning focal point as they slowly increase in size.
If they are from a single flowering variety, the parent plant will gradually deteriorate. Remove the pups before it dies as they need to learn to gain all of their nutrients from the air, not from their mother.
How to Care for an Air Plant to Extend its Life
For this section, let’s use the species Tillandsia Ionantha, the Fuego variety.
The plant has an expected life of around 2-years, with good care. However, you might feel you’re doing your best, and the plant withers within a few short months.
There are no hard and fast rules governing how long air plants live; we just have to provide the best possible conditions – poor conditions and maintenance can and will kill your air plant.
Air plants need a generous amount of water. In the wild, they absorb moisture from the humid air or rainfall.
Unless there is a humidifier in the room, growing Tillandsia indoors requires frequent watering. It differs by species; the Fuego likes a good soak twice a week with regular misting between.
All air plants should receive lots of water; the frequency differs by species as stated on their care label.
Air and Warmth
All air plants appreciate good airflow to absorb passing nutrients.
They also thrive in warm conditions; the Fuego and most other species prefer room temperatures upwards of 59°F.
Air plants need light and lots of it. Preferably, they should get 12-hours each day, but only indirectly. Direct sunlight is too harsh for most species, causing them to scorch and wilt.
Many types of Tillandsia thrive in artificial, particularly fluorescent light. Move plants to better-lit areas of the room frequently; some enjoy an hour or two outside in full sunshine or warm summer rain for an occasional treat.
Although air plants gain the most necessary nutrients from the atmosphere, the occasional treat enhances their growth.
Specialist Tillandsia feeds are inexpensive, pre-mixed, and last for the life of the plant. Mist the leaves once a month or when blooming begins to improve the quality.
Don’t be afraid of a few brown leaves at the base of the plant; it is natural and to be expected. Prune any discoloration and see recovery and new growth within a week or two.
As a general rule of thumb, the smaller air plants displayed in our homes live for around 2-years. It is possible to extend their life with excellent knowledge of each species’ requirements.
Larger air plants such as Xerographica varieties take longer to bloom and have a greater lifespan. The inflorescence lasts months if not years, giving you longer to enjoy the plant before the reproduction process begins.
Air plants never truly die; they regularly procreate, gifting multiple tiny versions of themselves before they pass.