Everything you need to know about the nutritional needs of your air plants
Air plants have ingeniously evolved over time to store significant quantities of nutrients and moisture in the leaves of their plants. This makes them incredibly durable and very easy to look after.
If you provide your plants with access to sunlight and adequate water, then your plants are likely to receive most of the nutrients they need. This means they’re sure to be thriving in no time at all.
Air plants in the wild
Air plants are generally categorized as evolving from one of two distinct climate groups – Xeric climates and Mesic climates.
Xeric Tillandsia – like Harrissi, tend to live in dryer climates like the southern parts of the United States. They need less water to sustain themselves. These robust plants can normally be found in desert-like environments, often near a rock formation or mountain range.
Mesic Tillandsia – like Streptophylla, hail from wetter climates like South America and generally need more water to survive. These plants are used to regular rain, fog, and mist. Mesic Tillandsia can be found in more humid climates, like tropical forests.
As these types of environment can be vastly different from one another, species of Tillandsia have evolved in different ways.
Different air plant characteristics
Xeric and Mesic air plants both have similar features that make up their physical attributes – such as an epidermis and hypodermis that create the plant’s skin. However, Xeric Tillandsia has evolved with thicker leaves that are better equipped to store water in times of drought.
Mesic Tillandsia has developed over time with thinner leaves – as they have access to a more readily available supply of water.
The epidermis is the outside ‘skin’ that acts as a shield to the water-storing hypodermis. As Xeric plants are equipped to store more water than mesic plants, they tend to have a thicker hypodermis.
Most air plants that are produced for commercial use would fall within a ‘Xeric climate’ category.
Trichomes – The fuzzy white hairs on your plants
Xeric Tillandsia have more trichomes - the white, hair-like fibers on the plant’s leaves - than the Mesic variety. Trichomes take in nutrients from the air and rainfall. Whilst they look like fuzzy hairs, they’re actually tiny ‘cups’ that take in water.
Mesic Tillandsia have fewer trichomes than their Xeric cousins. These trichomes are also more spaced out on the plant’s leaves. This is because they rely on catching water and nutrients in their axils – the space between the leaves at the base of the plant.
The leaves of a Tillandsia have an array of amazing ‘vascular systems’ that act to transport nutrients and moisture throughout the plant. This further highlights the way in which these plants have evolved to exist in different environments.
What do they do with the food and water?
Just like other plants, Tillandsia needs energy to create new plant cells that make up the body of the plant. And how is this achieved? Through a process called Photosynthesis that converts substances like sunlight, water, C02 and minerals into energy.
This process really kicks into gear when active radiation is taken in through the plant’s skin cells and then converted to sugar. These sugars are broken down (much like in an animal’s body) and then used to energize the plant. It’s this ‘energy’ that is used to create new leaves and sustain the plant’s health.
Extra energy is needed for a plant to either bloom or reproduce. In commercial environments, or simply in your backyard at home, this process can be enhanced with a fertilizer.
What minerals do air plants need?
Air plants are always craving essential minerals like Potassium, Nitrogen, and Phosphorous - much like other plants. Regular fertilizers have these minerals, just not in the ideal ratio for air plants.
Fertilizer for air plants needs to be different than regular fertilizer because air plants cannot rely on soil to break down nitrogen.
There are Ammoniacal and Nitrate Nitrogens that can be consumed immediately by air plants. They do not need soil to break down their properties. Special fertilizers designed for Tillandsia have just the right amount of minerals that are ideal for air plants.
Where can I purchase air plant fertilizer?
There is a customized water-soluble fertilizer available for purchase that is perfect for air plants. This product has been developed by Tillandsia experts across North and South America.
This fertilizer has been shown to improve factors like pup production and blooming cycles. All you need to do is mix the correct ratio of fertilizer to water. The mix can then easily last you a few months. You may even choose to put your fertilizer mix in a spray bottle and spray your plants that way.
Finally, be sure to regularly spray the leaves of your plants and give them access to lots of sunshine. If your plants are not in a location where they’re getting natural rainfall, then make sure you give them plenty of water. This will ensure that your plants radiantly bloom and produce a healthy supply of pups.