The Plant Plant you Cannot Kill
by LMG Calla Victoria
To all of you plant “Serial Killers,” yes those of you who just kill every plant that you buy or receive as gifts. Yes, you with the brownest of brown thumbs do I have the perfect plant for you! This plant will survive basically on its own with minimal care and it is the “Air Plant.” It is called the “air plant” because it does not require any kind of soil to survive so there is no chance of you over-watering and drowning the plant. I can hear you thinking, “Well how do air plants grow and how do they get their nutrients?”
Growing habits of Air Plants:
Air plants are Bromeliads and the botanical name for air plants is Tillandsia. So the air plant is a bromeliad but the genus (classification) of this bromeliad is a Tillandsia. All bromeliads have very small rooting systems because the roots are only used to anchor the plant, unlike other plants where the root system is how the plant draws in water and nutrients. Like the air plant, most bromeliads can grow epiphytically (growing on another plant or structure for mechanical support only). Epiphytes are not parasites, although they attach themselves to other trees and plants, they do not leach off of the host plant. The host plant is only used as a place for the epiphyte to hang out. Air plants are epiphytes that is why they do not need soil. The most common epiphyte in these parts is Spanish Moss, which is also bromeliad of the Tillandsia genus and the botanical name for Spanish Moss is Tillandsia usneoides. All bromeliads are not epiphytes some are terrestrial meaning they need to be in soil to live. What we know as the common pineapple is a terrestrial bromeliad that must be planted in soil to survive.
How Air Plants receive moisture and nutrients:
All bromeliads have hundreds of tiny scales that cover their foliage. The scales catch dew droplets and that is how the plants are hydrated. In the wild the only fertilization air plants receive is from an occasional drop of bird poop, or dropping from tiny tree frogs.
How Air Plants Propagate:
When we speak of propagation, we are talking about how a plant reproduces. With most plants you can grow them from seed if you have the patience. Or you can take cuttings and try to root them and that takes time, patience, and a little bit of luck. But what I love about bromeliads is they will just send up little baby plants or “pups.” As air plants grow they just keep sending out pups. You may have started with a plant that was about seven inches wide and five inches deep, and you could end up with a huge ball that has tripled in size over time; without planting seeds, trying to root cuttings, and keeping your fingers crossed that the process worked.
Care for the Air Plant:
Spritz your plant daily with water and place it near a window and it is happy. If you are going to be away for a week or so, soak the plant in a bucket of water for a couple of hours, take it out and re-hang it and it will be happy to see you when you return. If you keep your air plants outdoors no care required. The morning dew keeps them quite happy. Bromeliads do not like heavy fertilization so whatever fertilizer you chose dilute it down to 1/3 of the recommended mixture. The “air-plant” in the photo is a part of the new Bromeliad Exhibit that recently opened in the Conservatory at the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park, which I installed along with members of the Greater New Orleans Bromeliad Society, and MG Donna Childress. I forged a partnership with the Greater New Orleans Bromeliad Society and the New Orleans Botanical Garden to make the exhibit a reality. I chose this creative way of displaying these whimsical plants so that they just seem to be levitating there in the air. Air plants are usually green or grayish in color but this one just happens to be blooming. If I have piqued your interest in bromeliads visit the new Bromeliad Exhibit at the New Orleans Botanical Garden and be sure to check out the “Living Curtain” which is a part of the exhibit and also my creation. If you would like to purchase some wonderful air plants, the Bromeliad Show and Sale sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Bromeliad Society will take place at Lakeside Shopping Center on Saturday, May 5, 2012. If you are and avid gardener and would like to get all of the information on how to become a Master Gardner go to www.lsuagcenter.com from the home page click on “Lawn and Garden” and then click on “Master Gardener.
Tillandsia (the plants you cannot kill) are members of the Bromeliad family. Bromeliads are fascinating plants, if you are interested in learning more about bromeliads contact the local bromeliad society in your area. In New Orleans consider becoming a member of the Greater New Orleans Bromeliad Societyhttp://www.gnobromeliads.com/
Photos of me with my award-winning Bromeliads and trophy from the Greater New Orleans Bromeliad Society's (GNOBS) 2012 Show and sale.
Remember, never be too busy to stop and enjoy the beautiful flowers!