Tillandsia and Terrariums

The box of 6 epiphytes tillandsias (air plants) arrived yesterday. Here they are just after unpacking. These little perennials are super low maintenance and make a great indoor gardening project. And they’re super cute.

Let’s get the taxonomy out of the way. You may have heard the term ‘tillandsia’ before, but it’s unlikely you’ve heard, unless you’re a horticulturalist or botanist, terms like aerophyte, epiphyte, trichome, or bromeliaceae. In laymen’s terms, we’re talking about air plants, of which tillandsia is a genus of more than 700 species of perennials native to Guatemala specifically, Central and South America broadly, some parts of the West Indies, and even the deep south of the U.S.

These amazing plants thrive without a bedrock of soil. In their natural habitat, they often attach themselves to trees and fallen wood, are hydrated by dew and occasional rain, and grab nutrients from decaying organic matter like leaves, insects, and tree limbs.

They’re starkly beautiful (Avatar-ish), and very hardy. Some grow fat limbed and juicy inside, like a succulent, and require virtually no attention. Others have delicate limbs like spider legs and need a little upkeep.

I love their simple, spindly appearance, and the fact that they don’t require a lot of work. Yesterday, I received delivery of six Guatemalan tillandsia, with wispy limbs and a delicate green color. They arrived in good health, and I want to keep them that way.

They went into the glass and wood terrarium that I bought last month. I had originally put soil and succulents in there, but fungus gnats quickly took hold (this is a brutal winter for gnats), so I removed the succulents, dumped the soil, and cleaned and sterilized the terrarium. Then I ordered the tillandsia.

Since tillandsia needs no soil, but fungus gnats do, I don’t have to worry about gnats. I scattered in a few pebbles that I had just cleaned and dried, and spread the tillandsia over them. In five minutes, I had a gorgeous tillandsia terrarium that even my husband saw and said, “Wow, that’s cool”.

Because these are the delicate variety of tillandsia, they’ll need misting with fresh water weekly.

Contrary to what some believe about plant geeks like myself, we don’t want to take on tons of extra work in our indoor and outdoor gardens. The name of the game is to shepherd plants kindly and effectively so that they’ll thrive and have happy lives, and keep the maintenance down to a minimum.

That doesn’t mean that geeks don’t like puttering around plants, talking to them, plucking off dead foliage, administering water and nutrients, pruning for size and shape, repotting, and cleaning up. We do. We like it. A lot.

What we don’t like is a steady diet of hard labor when it comes to gardening. So, we build irrigation systems on timers and lay weed shields under our veggie plants, and instead of battling fungus gnats in a soil terrarium, replace the soil with stones and plant carefree tillandsia instead.

And there’s no compromise with tillandsia. They are absolutely gorgeous, and with simple care, many genus of tillandsia will bloom. The blooms may be small and short-lived, but they’re beautiful.

Live in peace.

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