You’ve gotten yourself a few no-hassle air plants, and now you’re curious about how fast they grow. People often misunderstand their growth and care due to their nickname (they do need more than just air to survive, and they won’t always stay as those cute little decor objects).
While there are variations in species, in general, air plants grow very slowly. As they mature, they will blossom then die off, making way for their pups to take their place and repeat the process over and over again.
Before going into more detail about the life cycle of air plants, it’s important that you understand their unique care and how large they can potentially get.
What are Air Plants?
Let’s back-track some and explain more about the infamous “air plant.” The more technical name for these unusual plants is Tillandsia, and they area type of Bromeliad that doesn’t require soil to survive.
These spidery-looking plants anchor to branches or rocks with their roots but absorb all of their moisture directly through their leaves.
Different species have various colors of thin leaves, and they will have short-lived flowers if the conditions are just right. Originally from northern Mexico, some parts of the USA and through South America, these plants are becoming quite a houseplant trend.
Air Plant Care
Tillandsia is native to areas of extremely high humidity, which is why they have evolved to take in moisture directly from the air. The problem is that people think that a simple misting with a spray bottle is going to be enough. It’s not. You need to provide a lot more water than that.
The proper way to water an air plant is to actually submerge the entire plant in water and leave it overnight (about 8 hours). Designed to take in water through the leaves, the plant will only absorb what it needs. No risk of overdoing it.
Give it a gentle shake to remove any water left between the leaves, and you can set it back on its shelf for another week or two before another dousing.
You do need to make sure there is no puddles of water left in the center of the plant where the leaves are clustered the tightest. It can effectively drown your plant in a short time.
Since they are absorbing the water directly, it needs to be completely free of minerals. Try to use distilled or bottled water rather than tap water, especially if you know you have hard water.
Not sure if your air plants need a drink? Take a close look at their leaves. When they start to curl under, they are usually starting to dry out. It may not be that noticeable since some air plants have very fine and curling leaves. Get to know your air plant so you can recognize any changes.
And you can’t get into houseplant care without some mention of sunlight requirements. They like bright but indirect light. That makes air plants a great choice for places in your home that aren’t windowsills. They are very popular as bathroom plants due to lower light levels and higher humidity.
A little fertilizer wouldn’t hurt your Tillandsia either. There are specific formulas for bromeliads or ephiphytes that are mixed into the water before you soak the plant. Fertilizer isn’t strictly necessary but it can make your air plant grow faster though probably not much bigger.
For more tips on caring for air plants, check out our in-depth guide.
If you are thinking you can get your air plant to grow faster by giving it actual soil, think again. The roots are meant to be anchors on a dry surface, like a piece of wood or tucked in between loose rocks. They will not work as traditional roots and trying to pot a Tillandsia will soon kill it.
Small terrarium globes are popular, as are bare pieces of driftwood where the plant is mounted. These are the most common ways to keep an air plant.
I have a few of my air plants mounted in a ceramic hanging set (pictured below). I absolutely love the way they look!
How Large do Air Plants Get
Sure, they’re cute when you buy that little plant to sit on a corner of your desk. Will it stay that way? It’s not an easy question to answer because there are many dozen different varieties of Tillandsia and they can range from an inch or two in height to several feet.
How large your air plant will get depends on what kind of plant it is, and that isn’t always indicated when you make your purchase.
For the ones you see on the market most often, it probably won’t grow all that high. On the other hand, a thriving air plant will sprout off smaller buds at the base as a way to reproduce. This is where you will see an increase in size.
You can either leave the little “pups” in place to continue growing along with the mother plant, or gently pull them apart to create separate new air plants.
Air Plant Growth Cycle
While we’re talking about reproducing plants, we should take a closer look on how air plants grow and what you can expect through the Tillandsia growth cycle.
They will grow very slowly, but there is a definite cycle and things you can expect as your air plant matures. Eventually, the older plant will produce a flowering spike as it nears the end of its life. The leaves may get more colorful at this point as well.
The blossom will last a few days to possibly even several weeks depending on the species of Tillandsia that you have.
After the flower has died back, the plant will start to die. By then, it should have produced several pups though. You can either separate the pups and have new plants, or leave them together in a cluster. They will continue to grow even after the mother plant has died.
As they mature, they will split off into their own pups, filling in any odd spaces left by the original plant. Because new plants are constantly being budded, your air plant can effectively live forever as long as you leave the smaller plants in place and let them continue to grow.
So even if your slow-growing air plant seems as unchanging as a pet rock, there is a lot going on. With the right care, it will reward you with a colorful flower and possibly an ongoing colony of smaller plants.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.
Tuesday 3rd of December 2019
I have just bought a Tillandsia plant which has a flower bud (which has not yet opened) in the centre of 6inch thin spiky leaves, the garden centre could not tell me much about it?! Such is my query to you! I think this is the 'Houston'?? I have been given a piece of drift wood from a shore line. It is dry but I have put it on a radiator over night to thoroughly dry out. Should I have soaked it in clean water first to rid any potential salt in the wood, or will it be ok to position the plant on straight away? I have some moss off one of my garden trees to place o the wood - is that ok?? Thanks for any help Chris
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Wednesday 4th of December 2019
I would definitely soak the driftwood in some clean water for a bit and dry it out again. If there’s a lot of salt on it, it could damage your Tillandsia, and the Houston is a beautiful one!
You should be okay to put some moss on there as well, but I would make sure that you are able to water your moss a bit more while keeping your air plant from getting too wet, meaning to give a little space between the two so you don’t overwater the Tillandsia. Moss tends to like things a little more moist than air plants.
Monday 21st of October 2019
Great information. Just purchased a couple small plants. In a small enclosed terrarium which is turning into a struggle to get them out to soak. So will move them soon into open container.
Lisa | The Practical Planter
Monday 21st of October 2019
So glad I could help!