What type is my air plant?

Air plants are a cosmopolitan group of plants that have adapted to a wide variety of habitats. This enormous diversity makes it difficult to give universal advise on air plant care. Yet despite their differences, Tillandsias can be divided into two ecological types.

Tillandsia Brachycaulos

Mesic air plants have fewer trichomes and are usually greener.

Tillandsia Xerographica

Xeric air plants often have a silvery green appearance and more trichomes.

Evolution

Although air plants belong to a single group of plants, there is remarkable diversity among them. This diversity is driven by the adaptation of air plant species to the local climate. It is not very hard to see that a plant living in a rainforest would have different requirements from a species living in a rainforest. That is why air plants can bed divided into two ecological types called mesic and xeric.

Mesic

Mesic air plants live in places with plenty of moisture and are often shaded by trees. To cope with such an environment, they have evolved a number of useful adaptations:

  • Smooth leaves
  • Less water absorbing hairs on their leaves (trichomes)
  • Usually greener to efficiently absorb indirect sunlight

Some good examples of mesic air plants are brachycaulos and bulbosa.

Epifyten

Rainforests are a good example of a mesic habitat with plenty of moisture.

Xeric

Xeric air plants are the opposite from mesic species.  They live in desert-like conditions and have to face gusts of dry hot wind on a daily basis. To deal with these conditions xeric species have some useful features:

  • Thick waxy leaves
  • Plenty of water absorbing hairs (trichomes) which take up dew from the air and repel direct sunlight.
  • Olive green leaves

Some examples of typical xeric species are xerographica, ionantha, tectorum and juncea.

Some air plants live in xeric habitats, such as this Tillandsia latifolia in the Atacama desert.

Care per type

When choosing an air plant, take note of the type it belongs to. If you are away often and do not have a lot of time to water your plants, it might be best to get a xeric plant like xerographica. On the other hand, if you prefer lush, green leaves and simply love nursing your plants every week, a mesic brachycaulos abdita might be your best choice. It’s up to you!