Everyone knows that plants need sunlight, water, and soil to grow. So you may be surprised to learn that there are some plants that don’t need soil at all. These plants are known as epiphytes, and they grow on trees and rocks in warm humid places in the world. Some of the more commonly known epiphytes include orchids, some ferns and mosses, and members of the pineapple family known as bromeliads.
Another epiphyte you may have heard of is air plants, also known as Tillandsia which grow in Central and South America, and the southeastern United States. Air plants typically have silvery leaves and can vary in shape and size. Many species can get different colors in their leaves, and some can flower though most of the flowers are quite small. One of the most common species is found hanging on trees in the southeastern United States and is known as Spanish moss. Air plants do not need soil to grow but instead absorb water and nutrients from the air through their leaves. These plants do have roots, but they are used to anchor themselves to the trees where they grow.
Epiphytes are not parasitic plants, which steal the nutrients directly from the host plant on which they grow; they simply use the trees as a way to gain more access to sunlight which they would not get growing on the heavily shaded jungle or forest floor.
Air plants are fairly easy to take care of and are relatively inexpensive. You can get them from many garden centers or order them online, and you may see them displayed on shells, pieces of coral, or driftwood.
Sunlight: To care for an air plant you will need to give them plenty of bright indirect sunlight.
Water: Provide a warm humid environment for your plants by frequently spraying them with a fine mist. Mist your plants daily from late spring to mid-autumn, and mist once or twice a week in the winter months. If your air plants begin to dry out the leaves will start to curl, when this happens you can submerge them in water for a few hours to rehydrate them.
Fertilizer: Generally you won’t need to fertilize air plants, but you can lightly fertilize them in spring and summer using a low nitrogen fertilizer mixed at one-quarter strength.
Temperature: Don’t let air plants get exposed to temperatures below 45°F or they will die.
Propagation: Air plants can be grown from seed or by offsets called pups. These pups can be separated when they are about 2/3 the size of the mother plant.