Tillandsias are the “it” indoor plant at the moment. Commonly known as air plants, most of the species are epiphytes, which is a classification of plants that grow on other plants, without the benefit of soil, and do no harm to their host plant. They absorb water and nutrients through their leaves. A commonly known tillandsia is Spanish moss, often seen hanging from live oaks in the southern states.
Their unique forms make them perfect for indoor garden art and plantscaping and there are endless ways to display them. You can arrange them on a cake stand, perch them on top of a candlestick, scatter them throughout a branch to mimic a tree or create a wall hanging, like I did.
The only requirements are that you situate them in a way that allows air to circulate around them and also, that they can be both misted weekly and removed from their perch to be rinsed under a faucet or even completely submerged. Their two biggest enemies are drying out and rot resulting from water pooling for an extended time in their crevices.
Watering. Air plants seem to be currently marketed as a low-maintenance, novelty houseplant for anyone to grow, but I would contend that they are more of a plant person’s plant. They actually require more attentive care than a traditionally potted houseplant, especially when it comes to watering. Depending on the humidity level in your home, mist your air plants at least once and perhaps, twice a week. Every month, or when the plants seem especially dry and crispy to the touch, submerge them in warm water for an hour and remove and allow to dry for four hours. You can also simply hold them under the faucet for 30 seconds. Either way, invert the plant, tap out excess water and allow them to dry for an hour or so before returning them to their home.
Light. Tillandsias require bright, indirect light.
Sources. Tillandsias are easy to find these days at garden centers, nurseries and the floral/indoor plant departments of many large grocery stores. There are also endless online sources.
Bark wall hanging
Mounting the tillandsia on a piece of bark creates a natural look that mimics their natural habitat and they actually absorb nutrients from the decaying plant matter. Bark from a mature cottonwood tree is thick and has ridges that lend themselves well to this project – it’s what’s used in this example – but any variety bark will work. You could also use driftwood or a branch. If you find your wood piece in nature, brush it off thoroughly with a whisk broom to remove any debris and check to make sure it’s not housing any insects.
Once you’ve determined the bark or wood backdrop you’ll use, decide how many air plants you would like to display on it. Play with placement of the plants, moving them around until you find an arrangement that’s pleasing to you. It helps to find spots to nestle the end of the plant into for a natural look and to help support the plant. There are many varieties available with varying sizes, textures, forms and color.
Incorporating wire loops into the design of the wall hanging to support the air plants allows them to be removed easily for watering. I used copper wire I uncovered with other construction debris in the woods – it had a striking patina and was thin enough to be malleable. I believe it is 18-gauge.
Using a drill bit slightly smaller than the wire, I gently drilled two holes in the bark for each plant, on either side of where the plant would set. I did not go all the way through the bark, but it’s fine if you do. After determining the length of wire needed to make a loop that would gently hold the plant against the bark, I cut it with a wire cutter and inserted the ends of the wire into each hole, pushing until the wire was secure. It will take a little finessing to get the wire in each hole and shape the loop to accommodate the plant, but keep at it and you will get it. You can add a drop of liquid glue for security, if you feel you need it. You can use whatever gauge wire you prefer, but strive to drill the hole using a bit that’s slightly smaller than the diameter of the wire. I employed this same wire loop technique on the back to create a hanger for the piece.
This article appeared in my DIY column in Northern Gardener magazine.