Air Plant (Tillandsia ionantha)

Air Plant

If you’ve spent any time looking at posts from house plant content creators, you’re probably familiar with the Tillandsia ionantha air plant. Also known as the blushing bride sky plant, this species of air plant is known for its beautiful pink and red hues and gorgeous pink and purple flowers. The Tillandsia ionantha plant can be displayed on a piece of wood in a terrarium or attached to surfaces with wire. It’s sure to become a statement piece in your home! Let’s take a look at how to keep these little air plant fellas alive so you can get creative with your displays.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Tillandsia ionantha, the air plant (a common name shared by most species in its genus), is a species of plant in the genus Tillandsia. This species is native to Central America and Mexico. It is also reportedly naturalized in Broward County, Florida.

Tillandsia ionantha was described by Jules Emile Planchon and published in Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l’Europe 10: 101, t. 1006. 1854–1855.

They are acaulescent or sometimes shortly caulescent plants, with a size of 6–8 cm high. The leaves are 4–9 cm long; with pods 0.6–1 cm wide, densely patent fabric; narrow triangular sheets, 0.3–0.4 cm wide, dense lepidota indument, foliaceous bracts; compound inflorescence (of simple appearance due to the reduction of the spikes to 1 flower), with 1–3 flowers, primary foliaceous bracts, much longer than the spikes, floral bracts 3 cm long, longer than the sepals and covering them in the anthesis, ecarinated, inconspicuously nervate, glabrous, membranous, sessile flowers; sepals are 2 cm long, free, the posterior carinate, the anterior ecarinated; purple petals. Capsules are 2.5–4.5 cm long.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight and Temperature

Tillandsia ionantha are usually shaded by other plants they’re attached to in their native habitat of South America and Costa Rica, so it makes sense that they want bright but indirect light. You can find out if your home has indirect sunlight by opening your curtains and turning the lights off. If there are shadows in the room and you can read a book, you have enough light.

Tillandsia ionantha sky plants should be placed out of direct sunbeams from a south-facing window. Otherwise, the leaves will scorch. A corner by a window or on the other side of the room away from the window should work. If you have a north-facing window where the sun doesn’t come directly into the room, the windowsill will work just fine. Offsetting them from fluorescent lights works too.

A tillandsia air plant should be grown indoors unless you live in a humid climate in USDA hardiness zone 9 or in a zone with warmer temperatures in the warmer months of spring and summer. They’ll need deeper shade outdoors but can be happy with short periods of dappled sunlight.

The ideal temperature range is warm, from 60-80°F (16° to 27°C), but they’ll tolerate temperatures down to 50°F (10°C) and up to 90°F (32°C) in summer months before they start to suffer damage. They cannot handle cold winter temperatures. If you’re growing in a zone with an accompanying cold winter temperature, bring them indoors when temperatures are at 50°F (10°C) consistently.

Watering and Humidity

The Tillandsia ionantha air plant loves high humidity levels but doesn’t like too much moisture or excess water. Watering may be a balancing act if you’re a first-timer, but you’ll get the hang of it! Ensure there is good air circulation in your air plant garden to keep it healthy.

Tillandsia likes a 20-30 minute soak in a shallow dish of water every 1-2 weeks. You’ll only need to do it weekly if you’re in a dry climate, or if you give your plant lots of sunlight and it tends to dry quickly. Similarly, if you place it near a vent, it may dry out regularly.

Give your air plant regular misting of warm water between soakings to keep it hydrated. You’ll only need to provide moisture via a regular misting once or twice a week, but that again depends on the humidity of its surroundings. If you’ve got a room with a humidifier going in it regularly, your air plant will love that extra moisture!

Soil

The Tillandsia air plant is an epiphyte that doesn’t need soil, thanks to its epiphytic lifestyle as seen in its native habitat in South America and Central America! You can display your air plant in a terrarium with rocks, wood, or sand, or use wire to hang it on wood pieces to create a beautiful garden setting. See our article about mounting Tillandsias in an air plant display for some inspiration.

Using soil may hurt your plant by keeping the roots wet for too long, so it’s best to avoid it. Place your Tillandsia ionantha common air plants in glass globes or attach them to wood to keep this epiphyte species happy.

Fertilizing

Air plants need very little nutrients if any. If you do use fertilizer, be sure to use something made specifically for air plant cultivars since they’re not as potent as regular fertilizers. 

Air plant fertilizer comes in liquid forms meant to be applied in one of two ways: feeding in the water you soak your plants in, or feeding via a foliar fertilizer in a spray bottle to mist your plants with. Both soaking and using foliar fertilizer will work well, so you choose the method that best suits you.

Planting Instructions

Pruning

Since a Tillandsia ionantha air plant drops old leaves, you may not have to prune your plant. If you choose to do so, you can pinch off old leaves at the base to make room for new growth and promote good air circulation. You can remove spent purple flowers or white flowers in the same way.

The only pruning that may be necessary for an air plant is removing pups attached to the parent plant to make new plants, which we’ll talk about in more detail in the next section.

Propagation

Propagating your Air plant using pups will require you to be a little patient, but the results would be breathtaking. You can harvest the pups right after the first bloom cycle since this is when the reproduction process begins.

Anytime the seeds fall from the parent plant, there are chances some would develop naturally into mature Air plants. Even so, pups make the best choice when it comes to the propagation and can reach up to a third or half the size of the mother plant. To propagate the Tillandsia Ionantha using pups, you need to:

  • Use a pair of sterilized scissors to remove a few pups attached to the base of the mother plant.
  • Pups don’t do well in isolation so you want to grow them in groups.
  • Don’t remove any pup until it’s at least one-third the size of the parent plant.
  • You can alternatively choose to harvest the offsets that develop on the edges of the mother plant if it’s especially growing outdoors.
  • Place the pups under bright indirect light and follow through with the nurturing tips we just hinted out.

Pests and Diseases

Growing Problems

The biggest problems you’ll face with a Tillandsia ionantha air plant are likely related to humidity, watering, and sunlight. If the tips of your plant’s leaves are dry, brown, and crunchy, it needs more water or humidity. If the leaves of your air plant are squishy or turning yellow, it’s getting excess water.

Yellow leaves can also indicate that the plant is receiving too much light. Remember that too much light can scorch the leaves. Observe how much bright indirect light your plant is getting to determine if you have a water or light problem if you’re not sure. If the leaves are on the dry side and have a splotchy appearance when they’re wet, it’s probably receiving too much sunlight.

When your air plant blooms, it will die, making way for young plants to form. You can remove the spent blooms during the flower period, but expect to propagate the plant after to help your new air plant babies thrive.

Common Pests

Outdoor Tillandsia plants may have aphid problems, but this isn’t likely for indoor plants. Aphids drink plant and flower sap and cause plants to form wilted or deflated leaves. Washing them off the leaves with water is the easiest way to get rid of them. 

Mealybugs are a problem for many houseplants, so if you spot them on the leaves or flowers of your air plants, you should check everything else, too! They’re white scale insects that form a cotton-like substance on plants, usually at the base of leaves or near the roots. Use rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab on the leaves to get rid of them, and rinse the leaves with water.

In the southernmost parts of Florida and California and throughout Mexico, you may have to deal with the Mexican bromeliad weevil. This is a black and yellow weevil that feeds on the bromeliad family specifically and is invasive due to a lack of natural predators. It’ll eat up the leaves and occasionally the roots and flowers of your air plants. Use a diluted insecticide made for weevils and beetles, or pick them off by hand.

Common Diseases

Tillandsia is mostly disease resistant, and the only one you’re likely to deal with is root rot, which is a fungal disease that appears when there’s too much water. Don’t give your plant excess water or any soil, and you’ll be able to avoid this disease pretty easily. Root rot can’t be cured, so you’ll have to throw away infected plants that form symptoms.

III. Uses and Benefits 

You can use this variety as a decorative house plant since it can hang inside a room and flourish even when there’s limited light access. This slow-growing epiphyte is one kind of a miniature houseplant that rarely needs grooming.

It only has basic needs that aren’t strenuous for a beginner. And since there are no soil or transplanting requirements to deal with, your plant will grow much faster without needing to wait for the roots to spread up so they can take in nutrients.

Air Plant (Tillandsia ionantha) Details

Common name Air Plant
Botanical name Tillandsia ionantha
Plant type Epiphyte
Growth rate Medium
Height 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
Width 0 ft. 6 in. - 1 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
Flower color Blue
Leaf color Gray/Silver