What is an Air Plant?

J.M. Densing

An air plant is a plant that does not need to grow in soil. It's a type of organism that absorbs water and all required nutrients through the leaves instead of roots. This variant often grows on the surface of other plants without relying on the host for necessary resources. They can also grow on objects. Some types of air plant, such as Tillandsia, make interesting houseplants that are relatively easy to care for.

Air plants are sometimes attached to pieces of driftwood.
Air plants are sometimes attached to pieces of driftwood.

Air plants do not need to be planted with the roots in soil; they grow in the open air instead. Although the spiky aloe-like Tillandsia is the most well known, there are many kinds. A few examples of plant groups that include air plants are lichens, mosses, orchids, ferns, cacti, and bromeliads. They are a diverse group of plants found in a variety of climates.

A layer of moss, an air plant.
A layer of moss, an air plant.

Air plants survive without being planted in soil because they are a species of plant called an epiphyte. This kind of plant absorbs water and nutrients through leaves instead of roots. They get all needed nutrients from the air and rain as well as dust or other debris that may land on them.

Algae does not need to be in soil to grow.
Algae does not need to be in soil to grow.

Although roots are not required by an air plant for nutrition, many have small roots used to attach to another plant such as a tree. The air plant uses the host plant for support only and does not take any nutrition or other resources from it. Minor damage may occur at the attachment site, but air plants are not parasitic in nature; many are able to grow on another plant without harming it at all. They are also able to attach and grow on other objects like rocks or walls.

Lichens are air plants.
Lichens are air plants.

The unique nature of the air plant makes it a very interesting houseplant, and various species of Tillandsia are often used for this purpose. They typically have thick spear-shaped leaves arranged in a radial pattern and are available in various shades of green as well as reddish colors. They are often attached to pieces of driftwood, rocks, shells, or pottery, although they don't need to be joined to another object to thrive. Care is relatively simple, consisting of soaking the entire plant in water about three times a week, or misting thoroughly on a daily basis.

Mosses are air plants.
Mosses are air plants.

Mature healthy plants that are at least three years old may reproduce by growing offshoots which are similar to miniature copies of the parent plant. This usually occurs after the air plant flowers. These offshoots can be detached from the parent plant when they've grown to about half the size of the mature plant and mounted to another support object using waterproof glue.

Certain types of ferns can be air plants.
Certain types of ferns can be air plants.

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: