25 Recommended Air Plants (Tillandsia spp.)

Air Plant - Tillandsia maxima
salchuiwt / Flickr / CC BY 2.0
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    The Tillandsia Genus of Plants

    Lynn Wen / Getty Images

    The term air plant refers to any of roughly 500 different species of flowring perennial plants in the Tillandsia genus, a part of the Bromeliad family. These are plants that require no soil for their roots. Instead, they extract moisture from the air. In their natural element, you will find Tillandsia plants growing on trees. Spanish moss is one type of Tillandsia. Although perennial in sufficiently warm climate, air plants are normally grown as indoor houseplants. They are native to warm, arid regions.

    Although once rare in commercial use, Tillandsia plants are now quite trendy and are used in a variety of hanging garden applications. While a few species can be grown in pots, most are mounted on pieces of bark or driftwood and suspended in air. They are now widely available at garden centers. These are fairly diminuative plants that need to be viewed up close. 

    Here are 25 great Tillandsia species to consider for hanging plants. 

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    Tillandsia ionantha

    Air Plant - Tillandsia ionantha
    James Ho / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Tillandsia ionantha is one of the most popular air plants, with two different varieties catalogued. Dozens of cultivars are also available, but the species version is very popular, partly because it is extremely hardy and hard to kill. Tillandsia ionantha is an attractive plant, with layers silvery-green leaves that deepen in color as they grow and extend. The leaves turn shades of red and pink before the plant blooms with beautiful violet blossoms. 


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    Tillandsia ionantha 'Druid'

    Air Plant - Tillandsia ionantha 'Druid'
    salchuiwt / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    With the renewed popularity of air plants, growers are really focusing on unusual colors. Unlike the red leaves of the species Tillandsia ionantha, the leaves of the 'Druid' cultivar turn a peachy-pink tone ,and the flowers are white. This plant is usually only about 2 to 4 inches in height, but it is eye-catching none the less.

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    Tillandsia maxima

    Air Plant - Tillandsia maxima
    salchuiwt / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    If you are in the market for an air plant that makes an impact, Tillandsia maxima is worth a look. It can handle stronger sun than most air plants and produces multiple flowers simultaneously. The leaves turn a coral-red before the plant blooms with brilliant purple flowers. This is considered relatively large for an air plant, reaching 5 to 6 inches in height with a spread of 3 to 4 inches. 

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    Tillandsia cyanea

    Air Plant - Tillandsia cyanea
    James Ho / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    It's easy to see why Tillandsia cyanea is called the Pink Quill Plant. The pink bracts fan out like a feather, with purple flowers poking out the sides. Unlike most air plants, you can even grow Tillandsia cyanea in soil. However, they are perfectly happy au natural, if given plenty of moisture.

    Air plants are in the tropical bromeliad family. When grown indoors, air plants will need to be watered regularly. You can submerge the plants in water and let them soak for about an hour, or you can mist them 2 to 3 times per week.

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    Tillandsia aeranthos bergeri

    Air Plant - tillandsia arananthos bergeri
    Megan Hansen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Tillandsia aeranthos bergeri is one of the most popular air plants because of its vibrant flowers. It blooms reliably every spring in spiky pink and blue flowers. This is a very low maintenance plant and as with most Tillandsia varieties, it likes bright, indirect light or the fluorescent bulbs of the office. Tillandsia aeranthos begeri grows about 6 to 9 inches in height and width.

    When air plants are in flower, rinse them under running water, rather than submerging them and ruining the flower.

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    Tillandsia kolbii

    Air Plant - Tillandsia kolbii
    James Ho / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Several air plants tend to grow sideways or snake in odd directions. Tillandsia kolbii has an upright habit, like a bunch of celery. It only grows 2 to 3 inches tall, but makes a statement with the soft, gray fuzz on its leaves, especially when they blush pink before blooming.

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    Tillandsia brachycaulos

    Air Plant - Tillandsia brachycavlos
    Megan Hansen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    The leaves or Tillandsia brachycaulos fan outward from a central growing pointm and the plant turns red as it gets ready to bloom. You may even find plants with leaves that have been dyed red, to give the appearance of flowering. This is a fairly small plant, growing about 3 inches tall with a 4-inch spread. There is also a hybrid, brachycaulos x concolor, that is bred to remain a bright, light green.

    Air plants are often displayed on hanging grids. It's a nice way to cluster a collection and allows the plants good air circulation.

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  • 09 of 26

    Tillandsia bulbosa

    Air Plant - Tillandsia barbosa
    Megan Hansen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    This air plant derives its name from its bulbous roots, but it is the contorted, narrow leaves that give it the most interest. They are often described as looking like tentacles and the plants do have a sort of sea monster appearance to them. The leaves will change color to a purple or red, just before the plant is ready to bloom.

    When grown outdoors, Tillandsia bulbosa has a symbiotic relationship with ants. The bulbs are somewhat hollow and the ants make their home inside them. In exchange, the plant feeds off of waste the ants leave behind.

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    Tillandsia cacticola

    Air Plant - Tillandsia cacticola
    Dick Culbert / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Tillandsia cacticola is hard to find in cultivation because it does not produce many offsets. However. it is greatly valued for its lovely lavender flower. The species name refers to its habit of growing on cacti. It has a silvery green rosette of leaves, out of which juts a long stem that holds the flower about 8 to 9 inches above the plant.

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    Tillandsia capitata 'Peach'

    Air Plant - Tillandsia capitata 'Peach'
    Megan Hansen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    The thick leaves of Tillandsia capitata "Peach" are surprisingly soft to the touch. They form a silver-green rosette that changes to a peachy-pink, as it gets ready to bloom. The peach coloring makes a striking contrast to the purple flower. The largest specimens are 5 to 8 inches tall, although 2 -to 3-inch plants are common. 

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    Tillandsia circinata

    Air Plant - tillandsia circinata
    Megan Hansen / Flickr /CC BY-SA 2.0

    Thick silvery-green leaves give Tillandsia circinata a very substantial appearance, for an air plant, almost like a bulb of fennel. They flower in either yellow or purple and grow to 6 to 8 inches in length, although they are only about 1 inch across at their base.

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    Tillandsia stricta x T. recurvifolia 'Cotton Candy'

    Air Plant - Tillandsia 'Cotton Candy'
    salchuiwt / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    'Cotton Candy' is a hybrid Tillandsia (stricta × recurvifolia) with long, thin, silvery leaves that look like a loose spider dahlia. It was bred for its striking pink flower spike. The pink bracts look as though they are puffed up or inflated. "Cotton Candy" needs very bright light to flower its best. Most specimens are 5 to 6 inches across, although there are reports of 12-inch plants. 

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    Tillandsia loliacea

    Tillandsia loliacea
    James Ho / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    If the miniature air plants fascinate you, Tillandsia loliacea is a real charmer. The plant itself never gets much larger than an inch and a half tall, but it stretches its flower stalk up another 2 to 3 inches to display equally tiny yellow flowers. The small air plants look equally charming perched on wood or clustered in terrariums, where they can soak up the excess moisture.

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    Tillandsia didsticha

    Air Plant - Tillandsia didisticha
    João Medeiros / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Tillandsia didisticha is very large for a Tillandsia, growing upwards of 1 foot tall, at maturity. The base of the plant forms an airy spray of slender, gray-green, pointed leaves. Out of them comes the flower stalk with pinkish bracts and small white flowers.

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    Tillandsia dyeriana

    Tillandsia dyeriana
    Walter Haller / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    With its bright orange inflorescence, Tillandsia dyeriana definitely has a tropical flair. The actual flowers are white, but they are upstaged by the exuberance of the bracts. This is one of a few air plants that can also be grown in pots, where it can be better assured of adequate moisture. Give this air plant lots of humidity. When grown in pots, it can get rather large, at 12 to 18 inches in height. 

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    Tillandsia fasciculata

    Air Plant - Tillandsia fasciculata
    Joan Simon / Flickr /CC BY-SA 2.0

    Unlike most air plants, Tillandsia fasciculata has multiple common names, including quill-leaf air plant, giant air plant cardinal air plant, and wild pineapple. This is one of the most commonly grown air plants and there are hundreds of variations and hybrids. The species has a red and green inflorescence that stays attractive for weeks. It is quite a large Tillandsia, with specimens as tall as 3 feet possible. 

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    Tillandsia flabellata

    Air Plant - Tillandsia flabellata
    Megan Hansen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Instead of a rosette of slender leaves, Tillandsia flabellata grows tall and vase-shaped, with a spray of flowers sometimes described as a candelabra. This is a large plant, as air plants go, growing 10 to 12 inches tall, that sends out multiple red flower spikes.

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    Tillandsia fuchsii var. garcilis

    Air Plant - Tillandsia fuchsii
    Megan Hansen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    This air plant was formerly called Tillandsia argentea. It has a bulbous base that is likened to a pincushion and long, extremely thin gray-green leaves. Tillandsia fuchsii var. garcilis is a delicate plant that only gets about 5 to 6 inches tall and remains 1 to 2 inches in width. Even the flashy orange-red inflorescence is dainty.

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    Tillandsia funkiana

    Air Plant - Tillandsia funkiana
    Dick Culbert / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    These elongated air plants bend and curl into odd shapes, sometimes even spiraling around themselves. This is a tiny plant, growing only about 2 inches long. Tillandsia funkiana  is a great choice for a terrarium or simply as a desktop novelty. As with so many air plants, the leaves will turn red, as it gets ready to flower. The inflorescence is also red, with yellow flowers.

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    Tillandsia gardneri

    Air Plant - Tillandsia gardneri
    James Ho / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Tillandsia gardneri looks a bit like a small yucca, with pale grayish leaves that taper to a point. It's a large size air plant growing from 9 to 12 inches in height. This air plant would be a good choice if you can't provide the bright light and warm temperatures most air plants prefer. It's very forgiving, but it still needs plenty of moisture.

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    Tillandsia lonatha 'Fuego'

    Air Plant - Tillandsia ionatha 'fuego'
    Megan Hansen / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Tiny, but quite the show-off, 'Fuego' is a cultivar bred to keep on blushing, long after blooming. The leaves retain their bright color for months. But they are small plants, growing only about 1 inch tall. This could be a focal point in your air plant collection or a conversation starter on your table. They may not grow tall, but they do fill out quickly.

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    Tillandsia recurvata

    Air Plant - Tillandsia recurvata
    Sergio Buratto / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Tillandsia recurvata goes by the common name small ball moss or simply ball moss. It is really more of a nest shape, with a mass of slender, arching gray-green leaves and a tall lavender flower spike. Its leaves grow 2 to 6 inches long. This plant often naturalizes in the Southeastern U.S., and it has the very peculiar habit of allowing its seeds to germinate while they are still in the seed pod. Tillandsia recurvata is a very easy plant to propagate.

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    Tillandsia stricta 'Pink Bronze'

    Air Plant - Tillandsia stricta 'Pink Bronze'
    salchuiwt / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    With a typical pineapple-type rosette of leaves, "Pink Bronze" will develop a hint of pinky-bronze coloring if placed in strong, bright light. But it's the huge pink and purple flowers that steal the show here. This air plant is popular as a single specimen in small teardrop terrariums.

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    Tillandsia ixioides x T. recurvifolia 'Whitestar'

    Air Plant - Tillandsia 'Whitestar'
    salchuiwt / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    "Whitestar" is a cross between Tillandsia ixioides X Tillandsia T. recurvifolia, however, it is much larger than either parent, growing up to 12 inches in height. The bracts are a rosy pink color with cream to yellow colored flowers. The silver-gray leaves tend to curl about, giving it a sense of movement.

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    Tillandsia xerographica

    Air Plant - Tillandsia xerographica
    salchuiwt / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    For an air plant, Tillandsia xerographica has unusually wide, flat gray-green leaves that curl around like ribbons. Much thinner new leaves sprout from the center of the rosette, but the broad leaves make a great contrast in a display with smaller air plants. Tillandsia xerographica does not get terribly tall, topping out at 4 to 5 inches, but its wide leaves will spread a good 6 to 9 inches wide, making an imposing impact.