All about Tillandsia, a True Wonder of Nature!

A plant that lives without soil, capable of giving unexpected blooms

Photo of author

By Alex

Tillandsia, also known in many languages as the “daughter of the air,” is a genus of plants that are able to live without soil and flower in the air. What’s more, its flowers can be really magnificent and stand out for their bright colors!

Here are our pointers for learning how to grow successfully this truly distinctive species of perennial plant.

Tillandsia: plant description

It is a plant in the family Bromeliaceae that has managed to adapt to extreme conditions, learning over time to live without needing the underlying soil.

In fact, its roots (not always present) have more of a support and anchoring function. Being an epiphytic species (i.e. one that lives on other plants), it develops around trees or other elements, natural or otherwise. They can even cling to electricity poles!

We are talking about a herbaceous perennial plant, present only in Americas. Here we find it located in various environments, from the desert areas of South America to tropical forests or the highlands of the Andes.

The nourishment is extracted from the air, thanks to specific elements called trichomes which cover the leaves. These are able to retain humidity, obtaining the water necessary for sustenance. Furthermore, nitrogen-fixing bacteria also intervene and help to obtain the necessary quantities of nitrogen.

One more distinctive feature of this plant is the capability to flower in the air. Tillandsia flowers are breathtakingly beautiful, with the vivid colors of a tropical plant.

Since there are 730 species, it is difficult to make a general description of the plant, as it differs greatly between one variety and another. We therefore list some of the most widespread species.

Tillandsia Cyanea

This species is characterized by green leaves that are narrow in shape and very long. It produces beautiful pink flowers that last up to 4 months, but appear only once in a lifetime.

It does not exceed 50 cm in height and is very fond of warm and humid environments.

Tillandsia cyanea

Tillandsia Ionantha

The Ionantha variety prefers hilly environments and poorly tolerates direct sunlight. It has succulent leaves that are green at the base but then end in a beautiful, very bright purple red.

Tillandsia Ionantha needs a humid environment and high temperatures. It blooms between late summer and early fall.

Tillandsia Aeranthos

Another very distinctive varierty is the Tillandsia Aeranthos, which produces pink and purple flowers, with leaves up to 10 cm long, green in color but with silver highlights.

Like other Tillandsia varieties, it blooms only once in a lifetime. It should be placed in a sunny environment. Its size is quite small.

Tillandsia Aeranthos
Tillandsia Aeranthos

Tillandsia Usneoides

Let us now turn to the variety Usneoides, also called “Moses’ beard” or “Spanish moss,” because of its characteristic appearance. In fact, it looks more like a tangle of gray threads than an actual plant, which is why it is widely used as an ornamental and decorative element.

Unique in its kind, it is ideal for hanging to recreate atmospheric environments, having precisely a downward orientation. In summer, it is not slow to fill with small yellow and green flowers, which give off a delicious scent.

Tillandsia usneoides
Tillandsia Usneoides

Tillandsia cultivation and care

Is it possible to grow Tillandsia at home? Certainly we need to assess the climate and temperature well and take into account the specific variety we have chosen.

Where to place tillandsia

Generally it lends itself to being a houseplant, also known for its ability to purify the air. In fact, trichomes, in addition to incorporating water from the air, also encapsulate substances and pollutants.

You can place it in any room of the house, even in the bathroom or kitchen, since many varieties require a certain degree of humidity. It is also possible to place it in a terrarium.

Then, during the summer period, you can move the plant outside, taking care not to expose it to direct sunlight. If you place your tillandsia on a branch, you will notice that roots will soon appear to cling to the support.

How to water it

Actually, thanks to its peculiar leaves, we have seen that this plant can get the water it needs on its own. For this reason, when placed outdoors, it does not require to be watered frequently except in particularly dry areas.

One caveat, however, must be made: if you have purchased a green-leaved species, the plant will need more water than a gray-leaved one.

For watering you have to proceed by soaking them for a few minutes under tap water. You drain them well and then put them back. Kind of like you do with orchids.

You must always assess the moisture to which they are exposed, the temperature and the appearance of the plant: only a discerning eye will know when to intervene.

You can also place this plant in small terrariums.


The same applies to fertilization as well: this plant is self-sustaining, so never overdo it. Approximately a couple of times a month a liquid fertilizer can be administered.


You can take it easy with pruning: with the exception of dry or diseased leaves, this plant does not require pruning. As stated, it requires very little care.

Reproduction of Tillandsia

The multiplication of tillandsia occurs by removing the shoots from the mature plant. Generally the best period is after the loss of the flowers.

Reproduction by seed is never recommended because it would take much longer. In fact, the flowers appear at an advanced age.

Cultivation in pots

For cultivation in pots, proceed only with Tillandsia cyanea and lindeliana, the others should be left outside, next to other plants. In this case, soil similar to that of the Phalaenopsis orchid is used.

Do all Tillandsias flower?

Yes, all tillandsias are capable of flowering: some species will take years, others will flower quite early, but all Tillandsias, in healthy, will flower at least once (and, in many cases, only once in a lifetime)

Diseases and pests

Unfortunately, this species also fears the presence of scale insects and aphids. As always, we suggest you use natural pesticides.

Other signs of discomfort can be given by the leaves: if they tend to darken, it means that they are receiving too much light. However, if they start to fall, it means that they are exposed to air currents.

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