It’s no secret that this past year has been a whopper for me.
During most of my chemotherapy treatments I was able to continue writing and public speaking, but it became increasingly more difficult as time went on.
After my surgeries (6 total!) I needed to hibernate for awhile and take a break from everything – including my garden.
While my garden continued just fine without me (though a bit unruly at times) my houseplants weren’t quite as self-sufficient.
All except my tillandsias.
These little treasures were like the Energizer Bunny – they just kept on going and going, without needing much attention from me.
Every time I looked at one of my other houseplants, I’d be filled with a mixture of guilt and resentment, knowing I didn’t have the energy to take proper care of them.
My tillandsias, on the other hand, filled me with delight. I knew that if I couldn’t get around to watering them for another week, so be it – they’d be just fine.
There’s always been something about tillandsias that make my heart sing.
Maybe it’s their seemingly endless array of colors, shapes and textures. Maybe it’s because of their otherworldly appearance. Or, maybe it’s because they’re one of the easiest ways to transform a ‘blah’ container into something magical.
Even just saying the word ‘tillandsia‘ is kinda fun!
Tillandsias (more commonly known as air plants) are in the bromeliad family.
In fact, those dried-up looking roots you see at the base of each air plant aren’t really roots at all, but are ‘hooks’ that allow them to grip onto other living things (ie: trees and large shrubs.)
And, unlike a typical houseplant, their leaves are what’s used to capture nutrients and water from moisture in the air, not their roots.
While air plants won’t ask for much from you, they do have a few requirements.
One, is that their surrounding temperatures stay above freezing (easy enough to do when growing inside your home.)
And while they appreciate bright light, you’ll definitely want to keep them out of direct sunlight.
Tillandsias will also need a weekly misting of water along with a light dose of liquid fertilizer every few months.
In my dry California climate, I take it one step further and give them a really good soaking once every couple of weeks.
I just plunge them into a bowl of room-temperature water and leave them for an hour or two.
After their bath, I drain them upside down in my dish drainer.
They don’t like water sitting in their crowns (otherwise, they’ll start to rot) so upside-down drainage is essential.
Oh, and one more reason why they’re such great houseplants is that many varieties will graciously provide you with babies!
Similar to succulents, air plants will produce offshoots (or ‘pups’) that you can gently pull off and reuse elsewhere.
Could it get any better?
Here are a few of my favorites that I have sprinkled throughout my home:
This tillandsia xerigraphica is one of my all-time favorites.
It’s thick and leathery foliage gently swirls around to form a hefty clump of extra-terrestrial beauty.
For most of the year its primary residence is in this shallow bowl filled with tumbled glass. Several years ago, my husband and I found a pile of old broken bottles in an abandoned dump.
We brought the glass home with us where it sat in a bucket in our garage for over a decade until my husband finally figured out what to do with it.
He bought a rock tumbler – and the rest is history.
When Christmas rolls around I move this air plant to a mercury glass bowl.
I like how the elegant bowl elevates (both literally and metaphorically) this unusual plant.
My fireplace mantle is home to these tillandsias. I love how the long, slender shapes of their foliage contrast with the highly-textured containers.
I bought these containers in Mexico a few years ago and immediately knew what I would do with them.
The shop owner must’ve told me a dozen times ‘You know they won’t hold water, right?’
Even though I reassured her that I understood what she was saying, she wasn’t convinced.
This grouping of air plants has happily lived in my family room for several years.
I found this glass terrarium covered with dust and dirt on an ‘everything must go’ discount table (can you believe it?) and again, immediately knew how I would use it.
I use a mix of different stones and pebbles to help highlight each air plant’s unique qualities.
I bought the other terrarium that was sitting on the discount table, and gave it to my mother.
During the holidays, she fills hers with antique Christmas ornaments to accompany her air plants.
In my office lives one of my favorite air plants of all – tillandsia tectorum (click here to read more about this very special place.)
When I first saw this pricey little gem sitting in the florist shop, I thought it must be fake – flocked with the white stuff that covered our 1960’s Christmas trees.
When I was guaranteed that this was, indeed, alive I just had to have it. It’s gorgeous, soft and furry – and part of me can’t help but treat it like a pet!
Since it looks a little like something you’d find deep in the ocean, I’ve placed it with my other favorite things to collect – sea shells.
Don’t even get me started with my sea shell obsession.
While visiting my daughter in Los Angeles, I stumbled upon Potted (an amazing garden shop!) and found these sweet little glass containers.
After filling the containers with tiny colorful glass and pebbles, they happily hold more of my tillandsias (and fit perfectly on my old, narrow windowsill).
On the next windowsill are a group of tiny little pottery crocks that I’ve had for decades.
I never knew what to do with them until my air plants started having babies.
Now they’re an ideal spot to create a tillandsia pyramid.
Not the air plant, but the little guy who lives inside of this terrarium.
My daughter found him at our local carwash (named – you guessed it – Lozano’s) and lo and behold here he is, watching over me as I do the nightly dishes.
I love this teardrop-shaped terrarium, a gift from Baylor Chapman who is the most amazing floral designer ever.
I’m particularly fond of the cool base that goes along with the terrarium, which allows it to rest securely on the counter.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing just how much fun you can have with these little easy-going houseplants.
And if you’d like to know more about tillandsias, I highly recommend Air Plants, written by Zenaida Sengo.
This is a beautifully photographed book with everything you’ll ever need to know about growing, designing and crafting with tillandsias.
I read this book from cover to cover, and so enjoyed learning about how to care for these plants, how to take care of their ‘pups’ and a million creative ways to display them in the home.