Botany

The Air Plant Thrives Without Soil

If you've ever browsed Pinterest or Instagram, you've definitely seen them: those little green plants that look like they came right out of a design catalog, just happy to sit in a bohemian-chic wall hanging or perch from a midcentury-modern bookshelf. It's as if they never touched dirt in their little green lives—and that's not far from the truth. Air plants, as they're called, don't actually need soil to survive.

Say "Aloe" To My Little Friend

Ready to bring some science into the pages of that design magazine you're reading? Air plants are also known as "Tillandsias," and they're a type of bromeliad (you might be familiar with the pineapple, the only bromeliad that produces fruit). What makes tillandsias special is their ability to grow without soil.  Like most plants, they have roots, leaves, and can produce flowers. But unlike most plants, their roots aren't in charge of taking in food; they're only used as anchors for support. It's their leaves that absorb moisture and nutrients. In their natural settings, they perch on tree branches or rocks—anywhere they can get sunlight—which gives them an evolutionary advantage in a crowded forest setting where a shaded position could be  a death sentence. 

Let's Hang, Bromeliad

Beyond the forest, people typically mount air plants on boards, tiles, or special Tillandsia planters, which are usually just glass hanging globes with holes for airflow. An indoor air plant generally likes bright, indirect sunlight and a good misting of water two to four times a week. If you care for them properly, you too can have an indoor plant that looks Pinterest perfect—but even better, it'll be a display of the wild ways evolution impacts everything around us.

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Written By Curiosity Staff June 26, 2017