Tillandsia Ionantha: How To Grow A Happy Little Air Plant

Tillandsia ionantha mounted on a piece of bark

Contents

If you’ve spent any time looking at posts from house plant content creators, you’re probably familiar with the Tillandsia ionantha air plant. Also known as the blushing bride sky plant, this species of air plant is known for its beautiful pink and red hues and gorgeous pink and purple flowers.

The sky plant is an epiphyte, meaning it doesn’t require any soil to grow and instead grows on wood and trees. If you have tough luck keeping houseplants alive, this one should be a walk in the park! All it needs is some water and bright light – what could go wrong?

The Tillandsia ionantha plant can be displayed on a piece of wood in a terrarium or attached to surfaces with wire. It’s sure to become a statement piece in your home! Let’s take a look at how to keep these little air plant fellas alive so you can get creative with your displays.

Quick Care Guide

Tillandsia ionantha mounted on a piece of bark
Tillandsia ionantha mounted on a piece of bark.
Common NameSky plant, blushing bride sky plant
Scientific NameTillandsia ionantha, previously Tillandsia erubescens
FamilyBromeliads (Bromeliaceae)
Height & Spread6-12 inches tall, 4-8 inches wide
LightBright indirect light, dappled sunlight
SoilNone
WaterSoak weekly, mist as needed
Pests & DiseasesAphids, mealybugs, Mexican bromeliad weevils, root rot

All About Tillandsia Ionantha

T. ionantha in a hand
T. ionantha in a hand.

The Tillandsia ionantha air plant species is part of the bromeliad family, making it cousins to the pineapple and other spiky plants. Tillandsia ionantha and other bromeliads are often thought to be exotic in the US and other western countries since they’re native to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico, and some parts of South America. 

There are some species of air plants in the genus Tillandsia that are native to North America as well. In their native region, you can find them clinging onto other plants in mountains, deserts, and forests.

Tillandsia ionantha’s foliage does indeed look a bit pineapple-like with its slender spiky appearance. They’re usually green at the base and colorful on the points and bloom tubular purple flowers. They can reach up to 1 foot tall if grown in perfect conditions, but they’ll likely stay on the smaller side. 

The plants have a bloom cycle in which they will only flower once in their lifetime and will die shortly after, but the parent plant will develop pups, so you’ll always have another. If you see flowers, prepare to propagate your air plant and help new pups thrive. 

The sky plant doesn’t need soil thanks to the trichomes on their leaves, which are cells that collect nutrients and water from trees they grow on. While some bromeliads have wells that collect water, Tillandsia ionantha doesn’t and only has roots to cling onto surfaces. If you live in an area with dry air, you’ll need to keep your plant moist since it doesn’t store much of its own water.

Types of Tillandsia Ionantha

Tillandsia ionantha in full flower
Tillandsia ionantha in full flower.

There are many cultivars of air plants in the genus Tillandsia, and three types of sky plants that are super popular: T. ionantha “Fuego,” T. ionantha “Rubra,” and T. ionantha “Maxima”. If you’ve seen Tillandsia varieties of sky plant that have a fiery red or pink color, you probably saw Fuego since it’s the brightest of the bunch. As a parent plant, it will look its brightest when it gets enough light and it will grow quickly and create lots of pups.

Tillandsia ionantha Rubra has two different forms: hard and soft. Hard Rubra has a vertical growth pattern since its stiff foliage stays in place. The soft kind is typically wider and shorter. Maxima looks a lot like Rubra, but they grow to be a bit larger and have thicker leaves. These thick leaves allow Maxima plants to be slowly transitioned into full sun exposure, but you don’t want to transition them too quickly, or they’ll get scorched.

Tillandsia Ionantha Air Plant Care

How do you practice proper Tillandsia ionantha care? Air plant care is pretty easy, as far as house plants go! While not a “set it and forget it” kind of plant, they can be forgiving and won’t require many supplies.

Sun and Temperature

T. ionantha in the wild, attached to a twig
T. ionantha in the wild, attached to a twig.

Tillandsia ionantha are usually shaded by other plants they’re attached to in their native habitat of South America and Costa Rica, so it makes sense that they want bright but indirect light. You can find out if your home has indirect sunlight by opening your curtains and turning the lights off. If there are shadows in the room and you can read a book, you have enough light.

Tillandsia ionantha sky plants should be placed out of direct sunbeams from a south-facing window. Otherwise, the leaves will scorch. A corner by a window or on the other side of the room away from the window should work. If you have a north-facing window where the sun doesn’t come directly into the room, the windowsill will work just fine. Offsetting them from fluorescent lights works too. 

A tillandsia air plant should be grown indoors unless you live in a humid climate in USDA hardiness zone 9 or in a zone with warmer temperatures in the warmer months of spring and summer. They’ll need deeper shade outdoors but can be happy with short periods of dappled sunlight. 

The ideal temperature range is warm, from 60-80°F (16° to 27°C), but they’ll tolerate temperatures down to 50°F (10°C) and up to 90°F (32°C) in summer months before they start to suffer damage. They cannot handle cold winter temperatures. If you’re growing in a zone with an accompanying cold winter temperature, bring them indoors when temperatures are at 50°F (10°C) consistently.

Watering and Humidity

The Tillandsia ionantha air plant loves high humidity levels but doesn’t like too much moisture or excess water. Watering may be a balancing act if you’re a first-timer, but you’ll get the hang of it! Ensure there is good air circulation in your air plant garden to keep it healthy.

Tillandsia likes a 20-30 minute soak in a shallow dish of water every 1-2 weeks. You’ll only need to do it weekly if you’re in a dry climate, or if you give your plant lots of sunlight and it tends to dry quickly. Similarly, if you place it near a vent, it may dry out regularly. 

Give your air plant regular misting of warm water between soakings to keep it hydrated. You’ll only need to provide moisture via a regular misting once or twice a week, but that again depends on the humidity of its surroundings. If you’ve got a room with a humidifier going in it regularly, your air plant will love that extra moisture!

Soil

The Tillandsia air plant is an epiphyte that doesn’t need soil, thanks to its epiphytic lifestyle as seen in its native habitat in South America and Central America! You can display your air plant in a terrarium with rocks, wood, or sand, or use wire to hang it on wood pieces to create a beautiful garden setting. See our article about mounting Tillandsias in an air plant display for some inspiration.

Using soil may hurt your plant by keeping the roots wet for too long, so it’s best to avoid it. Place your Tillandsia ionantha common air plants in glass globes or attach them to wood to keep this epiphyte species happy. 

Fertilizing

Air plant beginning to flower
Air plant beginning to flower.

Air plants need very little nutrients if any. If you do use fertilizer, be sure to use something made specifically for air plant cultivars since they’re not as potent as regular fertilizers. 

Air plant fertilizer comes in liquid forms meant to be applied in one of two ways: feeding in the water you soak your plants in, or feeding via a foliar fertilizer in a spray bottle to mist your plants with. Both soaking and using foliar fertilizer will work well, so you choose the method that best suits you.

Pruning

Since a Tillandsia ionantha air plant drops old leaves, you may not have to prune your plant. If you choose to do so, you can pinch off old leaves at the base to make room for new growth and promote good air circulation. You can remove spent purple flowers or white flowers in the same way.

The only pruning that may be necessary for an air plant is removing pups attached to the parent plant to make new plants, which we’ll talk about in more detail in the next section.

Propagation

Tillandsia air plant propagation can be carried out by removing the pups from the mother plant. These form around the time the plant blooms, after several years of growth. The pups grow in a clump around the mother and will eventually develop a ball. 

If you like the look of it, you can certainly keep it, but your central Tillandsia will die after blooming! But you can remove the pups to create more plants to fill up a display or keep around your home. Blooming is an indication your air plant has reached the end of its life.

Air plant pups are ready to be removed once they’re one-third the size to about half the size of the mother plant. Carefully pull them off the mother plant, ensuring the plant’s roots stay intact so it can cling onto whichever surface you put it on.

Your newly separated air plant pups will continue to grow, flower, and eventually form their own pup clumps that can be propagated when they’re about half the size of the mother plant. You shouldn’t have a shortage of sky plants once you get going!

A parent tillandsia producing an offshoot or pup
A parent tillandsia producing an offshoot or pup.

Troubleshooting

With a plant that doesn’t need soil, what could go wrong? A few things, actually, but you probably won’t deal with air plant care problems too often. As long as its base needs are met, Tillandsia ionantha care is easy.

Growing Problems

The biggest problems you’ll face with a Tillandsia ionantha air plant are likely related to humidity, watering, and sunlight. If the tips of your plant’s leaves are dry, brown, and crunchy, it needs more water or humidity. If the leaves of your air plant are squishy or turning yellow, it’s getting excess water.

Yellow leaves can also indicate that the plant is receiving too much light. Remember that too much light can scorch the leaves. Observe how much bright indirect light your plant is getting to determine if you have a water or light problem if you’re not sure. If the leaves are on the dry side and have a splotchy appearance when they’re wet, it’s probably receiving too much sunlight.

When your air plant blooms, it will die, making way for young plants to form. You can remove the spent blooms during the flower period, but expect to propagate the plant after to help your new air plant babies thrive. 

Pests

Outdoor Tillandsia plants may have aphid problems, but this isn’t likely for indoor plants. Aphids drink plant and flower sap and cause plants to form wilted or deflated leaves. Washing them off the leaves with water is the easiest way to get rid of them. 

Mealybugs are a problem for many houseplants, so if you spot them on the leaves or flower of your air plants, you should check everything else, too! They’re white scale insects that form a cotton-like substance on plants, usually at the base of leaves or near the roots. Use rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab on the leaves to get rid of them, and rinse the leaves with water.

In the southernmost parts of Florida and California and throughout Mexico, you may have to deal with the Mexican bromeliad weevil. This is a black and yellow weevil that feeds on the bromeliad family specifically and is invasive due to a lack of natural predators. It’ll eat up the leaves and occasionally the roots and flower of your air plants. Use a diluted insecticide made for weevils and beetles, or pick them off by hand.

Diseases

Tillandsia is mostly disease resistant, and the only one you’re likely to deal with is root rot, which is a fungal disease that appears when there’s too much water. Don’t give your plant excess water or any soil, and you’ll be able to avoid this disease pretty easily. Root rot can’t be cured, so you’ll have to throw away infected plants that form symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many air plants clustered together
Many air plants clustered together.

Q: How long do Tillandsia ionantha live?

A: Under the right conditions, Tillansia should live for up to 5 years.

Q: Should you soak Tillandsia ionantha?

A: Soaking Tillandsia ionantha is the best way to water it. Couple that with high humidity, and you’re set. 

Q: How often should I water my ionantha?

A: Your climate will determine how often to water your Tillandsia. In dry climates, soaking it once a week and misting it every other day or so should be enough. In humid climates, you may only need to soak every 2 weeks and mist it every few days.

Q: Do air plants bloom only once?

A: The many cultivars of air plants only bloom once in their lifetime and die shortly after. 

Q: How big do ionantha air plants get?

A: Ionantha air plants can grow to be as big as 1 foot tall in perfect conditions, but they often stay much smaller when grown indoors.

Q: Do Tillandsia ionantha need soil?

A: Tillandsia ionantha don’t need soil. They’re epiphytic plants that use their roots to cling to surfaces like tree branches.

Q: Does Tillandsia need full sun?

A: Tillandsia needs bright indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight will burn the foliage. In areas where direct sunlight can’t be avoided, use the shade from other plants to protect it. 

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