Sky plant (Tillandsia ionantha) is one of the most popular and eye-catching air plant species, but there are over 500 different types of Tillandsia in total. Compared to other small air plants, sky plant is known for being robust, adaptable, and needs minimal maintenance—perfect if you haven't cared for these types of slow-growing plants before.
They're also very pretty to look at! They start off tiny and have a cluster of green/gray leaves that form in a round shape. As they become more established, the thin and long foliage stretches, the colors deepen, and they take on a more wavy form.
Tillandsia ionantha only blooms once, right before it dies. This can happen at any time, year-round. The small, beautiful yellow or white flowers appear at the top of striking purple-toned shoots. During this bloom phase, the leaves on the plant also become more eye-catching, developing pink or reddish hues.
Like all air plants, Tillandsia ionantha shouldn't be put in a typical potting medium. It's an epiphytic species that has the ability to grow on other plants, or commonly, on tree branches. Instead, you can position it on things like an ornamental piece of untreated wood, in a glass terrarium, or even tucked into a shell. Some epiphyte lovers even use specialist wireframes to hang the plants from.
|Botanical Name||Tillandsia ionantha|
|Common Name||Sky plant|
|Plant Type||Perennial, succulent|
|Mature Size||Up to 6 in. tall|
|Flower Color||Purple, red, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Central and South America|
|Toxicity||Nontoxic to humans and animals|
Sky Plant Care
Tillandsia ionantha might be one of the more hardy air plant species, but they do still have some particular care requirements that need to be met for them to thrive. They need plenty of sun, regular misting, and good air circulation.
Another appealing aspect when it comes to Tillandsia ionantha is that it's virtually disease and pest-free. Because it's not in soil, it's less attractive to insects and mites. If any pests do bother your sky plant, rinsing the plant and then hanging it to dry is usually enough to dislodge them.
Getting the lighting right is one of the key factors of good air plant care. Indirect light is the sky plant's best friend. If you put them somewhere with strong, full sun throughout the day, they can become overly dry, and the leaves can scorch, especially if humidity levels are low.
They're a great addition to office environments because of their love of fluorescent lighting. But if the lighting isn't bright enough, however, they're unlikely to flower.
Just as the name suggests, this plant will grow in the air, and its roots should never be placed in a potting medium.
If you're placing your Tillandsia ionantha in a hanging position, you may initially need to use a plant-safe glue or wire to secure it. After around a month, the plant's roots should start to wrap onto the mount, wood, or other plants.
Air plants like Tillandsia ionantha thrive when the conditions are warm and humid. They don't need as much water as many air plants, though, and don't appreciate being soaking wet. This is why light misting is what is recommended. Usually, this will be around a few times a week, or more if you live in a hot and dry climate.
In dry regions, you can even run your sky plant under the tap for short periods, although they should never be fully submerged. If you do this, they really need to be turned upside down, and any excess water should be shaken free. They should be allowed to dry out before repositioning.
Trapped water in the leaves is a big problem for this plant, and over-watering is the main reason why people end up killing them off.
Temperature and Humidity
Although Tillandsia ionantha is a mesic variety suited to warm, humid, tropical-like environments (ideally between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit), provided you give them regular mistings, they can still do well in dry heat.
Cooler temperatures in the winter are appreciated, and this will help to encourage flowering the next year. Good air circulation is also vital for this plant.
Some fertilizers are made specifically for air plants, and feeding your Tillandsia ionantha once or twice a month could be beneficial during the summer. Enthusiasts report good results from adding an organic fertilizer made from fish emulsion to the misting spray.
Sky Plant Varieties
- 'Feugo' features deep red foliage when the plant gets enough sun.
- 'Rubra' grows in a more spreading, wide form even though it's a smaller variety.
- 'Maxima' boasts a larger size and can handle more direct sunlight.
Propagating Sky Plants
One of the great things about this plant is that once mature, it readily sprouts offshoots that are referred to as "pups." Once the pups reach about half the size of the mature plant, they can simply be cut off so that you can continue to enjoy ionantha for several years to come.