Thursday, 14 February 2008


If you reside in a small apartment or high rise condo, trying to find a couple of living plants to liven up the décor can be difficult. Most choices have a tendency to grow and grow, requiring more of limited space, plus they want a bigger spot for their roots which means the hassle of re-potting. As if storage space wasn’t already a problem, now part of it is taken up by half used bags of potting soil, the older pots (just in case you decide on one more plant to go through the growth cycle) and various small tools apropos to the plant world.
Next time you experience a hankering for a new plant, try one that typically has a limited size, lives on water and air, has no root system of importance and requires no soil so never needs the re-potting drama. Tillandsia, an epiphytic member of the bromeliad family, more commonly referred to as an ‘air plant’ may just be the answer. On a whim, I bought one half dozen specimens – each a different variety – over four years ago and still have five healthy remaining plants. The really, funny velvet to the touch one never quite got its legs, so as to speak and gradually faded out to brown. Both of those in the photograph have more or less doubled in size, so there appears to be little danger of morphing into ‘triffids’, and have seemingly reached their mature size. Although placed fairly close to a window, a north facing one, I doubt there will be adequate natural light to cause them to flower any time soon. The ionantha variety did have ‘pups’ without flowering and the mother plant is still alive two years later although the offspring are now equal in stature.
Finding objects with the right size crevices for the plants to sit in turned out to be trickier than first contemplated. Using a shell as most sites suggest works like a charm, but I figured more than one would reduce my creativity, so I turned to rocks which were plentiful and free. Not that it was necessary; I drilled 3/8 inch holes, about the same in depth with a concrete drill and a bit of oil for coolant, not to push the plant into, but to provide a better holding surface for the adhesive. Best glue I found was ‘shoe goo’, any brand used to repair runners; it doesn’t require too much time to set up (sprinkle fine sawdust, preferably cedar, around the base before it dries for decorative appearances) and does not breakdown from the watering or sunlight. Gluing them to driftwood is another choice; however I’ve been too lazy to pick some up.
Caring for the tillandsia is a breeze. As the air in most living quarters lacks the dust and particles normally used for food, my choice was a liquid fertilizer designed to be weak enough to use every watering without danger of burning. Every second day with a very heavy misting, making sure to also do the undersides of the leaves, accomplished over a sink and then lightly shaken. Twice a year I plop them in the sink and almost cover them with water for an hour or so – that’s where being attached to rocks comes in handy – and it really perks them up. Going away? Fill up the tub with 3 inches of water and leave them in there with the lights left on – I’ve left them up to ten days with no apparent problems. Good site with lots of pictures and information.

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