Aerial plants are commonly called air plants because they take water and nutrients through small hairs (trichomes) on their leaves, from rain, fog and dust.

They don’t need any soil and can grow on trees, rocks, sand, cacti, wires… anything that don’t hold water for long or isn’t toxic for them (copper for example).

Their roots works only as an anchors and they can survive without roots.

Aerial plants need soft water (without much calcium), very little nutrients, good air movement and some sun to survive.

Green Thumb Revival May Earn A Commission For Purchases Made After Clicking Links On This Page. Learn More.

What are aerial plants or air plants?

Aerial plants is plants that lives in air or wind the wind serves as the water of the plants.

Most aerial plants are found in tropical and equatorial regions of the world.

In evergreen rain forests, the foliage is so thick that some plants have evolved aerial roots to allow them to absorb more sunlight.

The development of aerial roots is thus an evolutionary process.

Aerial roots are often thick and spread around the parent tree. The Banyan tree can have several aerial roots as it gets older.

What are some examples of aerial plants?

Aerial plants have roots above the ground. 

Aerial plants are often found in rainforests where competition at ground level for light and food has lead to their evolution.

EXAMPLES OF AERIAL PLANTS INCLUDE-

  • Orchids (Phalonopsis, Vanda, Dendrobium, Catlleya)
  • Stag-horn fern
  • Mangrove trees
  • Spanish moss
  • Green moss mushroom
  • Tillansia
  • Ivy
  • Bromeliads
  • Pand
  • Banyan trees

So if a plant has aerial roots is it an air plant?

Sort of…..

In addition to those already listed (orchids, ferns, bromeliads, Epiphyllum), add Philodendron and Pothos.

These commonly grown houseplants are tropical forest floor dwellers, until the roots that emerge on the stem find a vertical support, like a tree.

Their roots will grow on the bark of the tree, and the vines will continue growing upward toward the light, so they can be considered “aerial plants”.

The curious thing about this is that the leaves become very large. Pothos leaves can grow over a foot long, and are considered the adult form of foliage. As the vine matures, it is then able to flower.

You can train pothos on a bark slab, a few feet tall, by misting the bark frequently or by growing the plant in a humid atmosphere, such as outdoor shade in the summer, or in a greenhouse.

Another plant is Nepenthes, one of the carnivorous pitcher plants. It has structures that fill with liquid and enzymes that are able to digest insects that slide into the pitchers. That’s how many carnivorous plants get enough nitrogen to survive in N-depleted media.

What are the aerial parts of plants?

Aerial parts of plant means parts which are completely exposed in air.

Actually the parts which are underground can be roots, stem ( we study the underground modifications of stem), some fruits (eg. groundnut), and flowers also (viola).

We cannot say that a particular plant part is always aerial because it varies from plant to plant.

Green leaves are always aerial because light is necessary for formation of chlorophyll.

Are air plants easy to take care of?

In general, yes. They don’t have pests and soil to worry about and don’t really get sick.

However, there are a few things I’d watch out for:

One, do not to keep your air plant in a small glass globe or enclosed space.

They are called air plants for a reason, that they like airflow.

If you really want to keep your air plant in a globe or something because it’s pretty (I don’t blame you!) make sure to take it out for watering and only put it back in when it’s fully dry.

Next up is, watering.

This is a big one, and I’ve killed numerous air plants due to this issue before I figured out where I went wrong.

First, underwatering…do not think you can mist your plant once a week and have it survive.

It will slowly shrivel up and die.

You should SOAK your air plant once a week for a few HOURS.

Do not feel like your drowning your plant.

I’ve accidentally left a few plants submerged in the water for a few DAYS and they were just fine (one even flowered right after the incident…don’t try it though!).

After soaking, make sure to let your plant rest in a sunny spot upside-down.

If water stays lodged in the base of the air plant for too long it will rot and fall apart.

Lastly, make sure to put it in a sunny window…air plants are tropical.

Small cultivars of air plants look cute in the popular glass hanging globes, as long as there are enough openings to vent warm air. You can decorate them with gravel, pieces of driftwood, or dyed preserved moss (color can run when wet), but remember to mist them or wet the leaves a couple of times a week.

Aerial Plants FAQ


Where can I buy air plants?

How do air plants survive?

Tillandsias are called air plants, because they take water and nutrients through small hairs (trichomes) on their leaves, from rain, fog and dust.

They dont need any soil and can grow on trees, rocks, sand, cacti, wires… anything that dont hold water for long or isnt toxic for them (copper for example). Their roots works only as an anchors and they can survive without roots.

Tillandsias need soft water (without much calcium), very little nutrients, good air movement and some sun.

Are air plants toxic to cats and dogs?

Tillandsia or air plants are non-toxic. Thankfully, after accidental testing we found that aerial plants are not toxic to humans and pets. So if your cat, or dog, or child, eats your air plant it will be no worse for wear. 

We do not make any claims based on scientific research but anecdotally we have not heard of any incidents to suggest they are not safe for pet’s with a penchant for eating your precious house plants.

How much light do air plants need?

Give them enough direct sun to encourage flowers; a few hours in the more gentle morning sun will suffice. Or outdoors in the summer (they love the humidity) in dappled shade, but don’t expose them to temperatures below about 45 degrees F.

Are air plants succulents?

Are air plants real?

Where do air plants come from?

Bromeliads can be terrestrial, growing in the ground, or they can grow on the bark of tree branches, absorbing rainwater directly from the vase or through scurfy leaf surfaces in species such as Tillandsia.

Garden centers sell lots of epiphytic varieties (Guzmania, Neoregelia, Vriesia, Aechmea, and other species), those that grow on trees in their native regions, in pots of well-drained soil.

Tree-dwelling species of air plants will root slowly on the bark but they are not parasitic.

How do air plants reproduce?

Air plants are bromeliads, so they will flower and set seed.

There are lots of species of Tillandsias, from tiny 1″ tall rosettes and the vining “Spanish moss” to species that just keep growing long thick stems.

That large one was propagated simply by breaking off a piece of the stem with several leaves on it.

They don’t need soil to grow in, but the foliage has to be misted a few times a week. Grayish scales covering the leaves absorb the water directly and distribute it over the surface of the leaf.

Can air plants live outside?

How do air plants get nutrients?

They get their meager nutrients from leaf debris and animal droppings that collect and decompose in between the leaves, or at the base of the plant.

Do air plants grow roots?

Most all commercial outlets we buy from have trimmed those roots off when they sell them. Why? I have no idea, maybe it’s just convention in that is what their customers have come to expect. I suspect many people just don’t know they can trim them off without hurting the plant. It doesn’t really mean anything other than you have a good healthy Tillandsia.

Not to be sarcastic, but how do you think airplants anchor themselves to their host in the wild?

I have bought several where the seller did not trim the roots.

Even though air plants absorb water and nutrients from their trichomes, or sponge-like cells on their leaves, they still grow roots.

Because air plant roots have been trimmed off before you buy them you may be wondering: Do air plants have roots? The answer is: Yes they do. Though they perform a much different function than roots do for other plants.

These roots perform a different function than the roots of most other plants. The sole purpose of these roots is to grab hold of a host plant. Air plants do not harm the host plant, they just need a good anchor. When you first purchase an air plant the roots will have already been trimmed off. Over time these roots will eventually begin to grow again.

If your air plant has begun to grow roots, remember these roots are completely normal and can be trimmed off and the air plant won’t suffer a bit.

In an air plant (Tillandsias), roots act as anchors, securing plants to their supports. Leaves handle the job of absorbing moisture. Each leaf on an air plant is covered in specialized scales known as trichomes, which have the ability to absorb water and nutrients. Some trichomes are smooth; others are hairy.

In a home setting, give an air plant bright, but filtered sunlight, like that found near an east-, south- or west-facing window. Many gardeners place an air plant in a bathroom to take advantage of shower-generated humidity, but having adequate sunlight is more important. Outdoors, a screened porch, lanai or pool enclosure usually gives air plants the filtered sunlight they crave.

Watering is probably the trickiest part of growing these unusual plants. In an interior room, air plants often die from underwatering because their owners mistakenly assume the plants absorb moisture from the air. On a cloud-swaddled Andes mountaintop or in a rainforest, that scenario works. In the dry air of a heated or air-conditioned room, air plants need water.

Use rain water or bottled drinking water. Avoid using softened water; it’s high in salts. If you live in an area with hard water, the chalk content in the water will eventually clog the trichomes on air plant leaves. When you remove plants from the water, gently shake them upside down a few times to dislodge water from the center of the plant.

In a typical indoor setting, an air plant watered by submerging shouldn’t need watering for 10 to 14 days. Monitor your plant’s appearance to learn when to water. Take note of how the plant looks the day after watering. Note leaf color and appearance. Leaves on a drought-stressed air plant may curl under, color may seem flatter, and leaf tips may turn brown.

To fertilize air plants, use a water-soluble fertilizer developed for ephiphytes, bromeliads or air plants. These specialized fertilizers contain nitrogen in a form air plant leaves can absorb. Add fertilizer to the water before submerging your air plant. For best results, follow package directions.

Can an air plant die of neglect?

Yes it can absolutely die of neglect. I assume you are talking about growing them indoors.

In rare cases, I’ve heard of ones that have survived indoors with no watering over long periods of time, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

What are the easiest air plants to take care of?

Below are our top five easiest aerial plants to take care of and a bit of information about them to get you started.

Tillandsia stricta ‘Black Tip’ 

Tillandsia stricta ‘Black Tip’ is a small-to-medium sized dark green air plant with vertical, pointed leaves that deepen in color at the ends. 

Special Notes: this is considered one of the easiest air plants to grow, so it’s great for beginners.

Tillandsia ionantha v. rubra

Tillandsia ionantha v. rubra is a small, ball-shaped air plant with bright green leaves that deepen to a crimson color in the center of the plant. It is heavily covered in trichomes, giving it a fuzzy appearance.

Tillandsia ionantha ‘Conehead’ 

Tillandsia ionantha ‘Conehead’ is large and shaped like a spiky pinecone. The foliage blushes bright red when flowering, and it produces a beautiful purple flower spike.

The leaves grow more upright than many other air plants, giving it its characteristic compact cone shape.

Tillandsia ionantha v. scaposa 

Tillandsia ionantha v. scaposa has straight, upward growing foliage that forms a tight bundle shape. Its leaves are pale green and can look almost white sometimes.

When in bloom, the inner leaves turn red and it produces a bright purple flower bract. 

Special Notes: the leaves are more fragile on this Tillandsia than others, so be gentle when you handle it. Tillandsia ionantha v. scaposa likes frequent watering and cool temperatures.

Tillandsia magnusiana 

Tillandsia magnusiana has thin, silver leaves that branch out into a wild mane.

Its flower is purple and grows on a red spike sent up form the middle of the plant. 

Special Notes: this air plant prefers cool temperatures and lots of air circulation.

Read the 20 Easiest Air Plants to Grow!

What and when should I spritz or mist my air plants?

Skip the Spritz and the Mist!

Often when you buy Air plants or Tillandsia at the store, the label recommends spritzing them with water from a misting bottle a few times each week.

We wouldn’t recommend this, though, as spritzing is just too inconsistent and doesn’t provide the air plant with enough moisture.

Do this: Soak them. Under most conditions once or twice a week for 15–30 minutes each time is enough, their just not that picky. This works for me, the website has slightly different ideas.

You’ll soon find out what works for you, pay attention to their appearance that’s all, if they don’t look healthy adjust your pattern in watering.

Do my Air Plants need a Bath?

Giving your aerial plants a “bath” or submerging them in a bowl of water for a bit is the best way to water them when they need it.

To water air plants, remove them from wherever you have them displayed and submerge in a bowl or sink full of enough water to completely cover them.

Parts of the plants will float up above the water—this is okay, just make sure that the majority of each air plant is submerged in the water.

Leave them in the bath for one hour. Remove each plant, hold facing upside down, and shake well to get rid of any excess water that may be pooling at the base of the inner leaves.

Return your air plants to their regular spot until it is time to bathe them again.

This part is important, don’t let their little “root” segment soaking wet.

Why can’t I use tap water to water air plants?

Water from the tap or from any municipal water supply has been treated with chemicals including chlorine to make is safe to drink.

You don’t want to use this chlorinated water for your air plants as it can harm them.

Instead, use rainwater or filtered water if possible.

If you want to use tap water, allow it to sit out in a bowl for 24 hours first so that the chlorine evaporates. Chlorine can turn the tips of the leaves brown.

What does it mean if my air plant (Tillandsia) is growing roots?

Because air plant roots have been trimmed off before you buy them you may be wondering: Do air plants have roots? The answer is: Yes they do. Though they perform a much different function than roots do for other plants.

These roots perform a different function than the roots of most other plants. The sole purpose of these roots is to grab hold of a host plant. 

Air plants do not harm the host plant, they just need a good anchor.

When you first purchase an air plant the roots will have already been trimmed off. Over time these roots will eventually begin to grow again.

If your air plant has begun to grow roots, remember these roots are completely normal and can be trimmed off and the air plant won’t suffer a bit.

Leave a Reply