Name that Air Plant: 17 of the Best Tillandsia Varieties for Soilless Gardening

Tillandsia are members of the Bromeliad family. They are epiphytes that use their roots to cling harmlessly to surfaces such as trees and rocks for support, instead of using them to absorb nutrients.

A close up vertical image of an air plant set on a wooden surface with another variety in soft focus in the background. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

Commonly known as air plants, there are two types: mesic and xeric. The first come from tropical rainforest regions where moisture is abundant, and the second, from dry desert climes.

In our guide to growing air plants, we discuss all you need to know to cultivate these funky, unusual plants.

In this article, we round up 17 of our favorite Tillandsia species, to guide you in building a collection of your own.

Here’s the lineup:

Tillandsia of the xeric variety have a fuzzy or silvery look, lighter color, and flattened leaf shape.

A close up vertical image of three air plants growing on wire stands anchored by smooth rocks, set on a fabric surface pictured on a soft focus background.

This is because they are covered in moisture-absorbing trichomes that help them endure drought conditions in desert climes.

They require the least amount of water, on the order of a light misting twice a week, plus a monthly dunking in water.

Mesic varieties, on the other hand, have darker foliage that is smooth and often curly.

A close up horizontal image of a mesic air plant with succulent green foliage growing on a wooden branch pictured on a soft focus background.

They are accustomed to rainforest humidity, and like to be misted every other day, or dunked weekly. You may also give them a deep 30-minute soaking once a month.

Plants tolerate temperatures between 50 and 90°F.

Take care to gently shake or invert plants to rid them of excess moisture. Don’t use moss as a base, and avoid wetting display surfaces, to avoid rotting.

Both types do well in bright, indirect sunlight. Xerics can tolerate the brightest light, but still benefit from protection from the most intense afternoon rays.

Most varieties generally flower once, dying afterward, to be replaced by emerging offsets or “pups.”

Bloom periods vary from a number of days to several weeks, or even months. Varieties with especially long-lasting flowers are noted below.

And finally, some species are available in small, medium, and large sizes, so take this into account as you plan your collection.

If you want a quick and easy way to get started, instead of choosing individual species, you can purchase an assorted mix of five different Tillandsia plants, available from Terrain.

A close up horizontal image of a selection of different air plants set on a white surface.

Tillandsia Collection, Small

Each plant is approximately three to five inches long and one to two inches wide.

Terrain also carries a medium-sized collection, with plants four to 10 inches long and two to three inches wide.

And now, here are 17 of our favorites and the key physical attributes of each individual species:

1. Aeranthos

T. aeranthos is a xeric variety with light green leaves that have a silvery cast.

A close up horizontal image of T. aeranthos with a bright red and purple flower growing indoors pictured on a soft focus background.
T. aeranthos. Photo by Eric J. Gouda, Wikimedia Commons via CC BY-SA.

The foliage is pointed and stiff, extending outward from the center to form a rosette. In the brightest light, it may have a purple hue.

As it grows, the rosette telescopes to heights of six to eight inches.

T. aeranthos

From this pale and unassuming foliage, stunning blossoms rise on elongated stems, or inflorescences.

With pink-purple bracts and a ring of blue-purple petals, they resemble tiny fuchsia flowers.

Find T. aeranthos plants now from Amazon.

2. Albertiana

You’ll recognize that T. albertiana is a mesic type by its smooth, dark, fleshy leaves. They have a yellow-green hue that may darken toward a purple shade.

A close up vertical image of T. alberitana with bright red flowers growing in the garden, fading to soft focus in the background.
T. albertiana. Photo by Michael Wolf, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

A key identifying characteristic is its “distichous” foliage pattern. Like that of a fir tree, the leaves are arranged in a repeating pattern of opposing rows.

Mature heights range from two to four inches.

T. albertiana

The flowers of this variety have three bright red petals and may last a week.

Find T. albertiana now from Amazon.

3. Andreana

Like a small tuft of wispy grass, mesic T. andreana has narrow, fleshy leaves that are pale green and needle-like.

A close up horizontal image of T. andreana growing on a marble surface, pictured on a soft focus background.

A delicate beauty, it dislikes temperature fluctuations more than most.

Heights range from four to six inches.

T. andreana

The reward for catering to its care is a blush of red followed by the emergence of an upright coral-red flower.

Find T. andreana plants now from Amazon.

4. Brachycaulos

The flat green leaves of xeric T. brachycaulos are a bright mid-green, and resemble those that emerge from the top of a pineapple.

A close up horizontal image of the bright red foliage and purple flowers of Tillandsia brachycaulos pictured on a soft focus background.

The foliage may have a purple or red cast, and grows in a telescoping fashion to heights of eight to 10 inches.

T. brachycaulos

Upon blooming, the foliage blushes magenta-red, and erect purple blossoms appear.

Find T. brachycaulos plants now from Amazon.

5. Bulbosa

Mesic T. bulbosa has fleshy, dark green leaves that resemble the squiggly tentacles of an octopus.

A close up horizontal image of a Tillandsia bulbosa growing on a wooden stake with bright red and green foliage pictured on a soft focus background.
T. bulbosa. Photo by Bocabroms, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

They protrude from a base that resembles a layered onion, and may reach heights of 8 to 18 inches.

When flowering, the upper leaves turn red, and from their center, a small-statured red bract emerges that contains a purple-petaled blossom.

An unusual feature of this plant is that in the wild, it exists in symbiosis with ants that make their home in its hollow bulb-like stem bases.

T. bulbosa

Keep this in mind if you give your plants outdoor time in the summer months. They won’t hurt the plant, but may invade your home.

Find T. bulbosa plants now from Amazon.

6. Butzii

Resembling a little squid, the distinguishing feature of mesic T. butzii is the mottling on its tentacle-like green leaves.

A close up horizontal image of Tillandsia plants with a wooden mannequin pictured on a white background.

The foliage originates in a rounded bulb-like base and may grow up to 10 inches long.

Like T. bulbosa, it may host ants if placed outdoors.

T. butzii

Red inflorescences open to purple flowers.

Find T. butzii plants now from Amazon.

7. Capitata

This type may resemble T. brachycaulos, with its spider plant-like leaves, but two differentiating characteristics are that this type is xeric, with the classic silvery cast trichomes make, and it blushes peach-pink just before blooming.

A close up horizontal image of Tillandsia capitata growing outdoors next to a dirty white wall.
T. capitata. Photo by David J. Stang, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

There are a number of T. capitata varieties available, ranging from green to purple. Heights may exceed 10 inches.

T. capitata

At flowering time, the center leaves blush peach before a purple flower emerges from the rosette center.

Find T. capitata plants now from Amazon

8. Caput medusae

A xeric variety, T. caput medusae has silver-gray trichomes on snake-like winding green leaves that resemble the hair of the mythical Medusa.

A close up horizontal image of a Tillandsia caput medusae with green foliage and bright pink flowers.
T. caput medusae. Photo by Raul654, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

Growth is telescoping with laterally spreading foliage, and heights range from six to eight inches.

During flowering, you’ll see a pink blush at the center of the plant first, followed by red/yellow bracts that open to purple/white blossoms.

T. caput medusae

Like T. bulbosa, ants may make their home in the base of this plant, so be aware of this if you give it time outdoors.

Find T. caput medusae plants now from Amazon.

9. Chiapensis

T. chiapensis is a xeric species with rosettes of arching to curly, trichome-covered light-green foliage that may blush to purple.

A close up horizontal image of Tillandsia chiapensis with light purple inflorescences pictured on a soft focus background.
T. chiapensis. Photo by Bocabroms, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

Heights vary widely, from two to 12 inches.

When in bloom, pale pink quill-like spikes with purple flowers rise from the center.

10. Concolor

Xeric T. concolor boasts light green to yellow trichome-covered leaves that resemble those of a spider plant. They are noteworthy for their firmness.

A close up horizontal image of Tillandsia concolor growing on a wire frame pictured on a soft focus background.

Heights are between seven and nine inches.

At blooming time, the foliage blushes red and green quill-like spikes rise from the center to reveal magenta blooms.

T. concolor

More adaptable than some, it can handle bright light to shade.

Find T. concolor plants from the Air Plant Shop via Amazon.

11. Cyanea

T. cyanea is a mesic variety with a cluster of medium green, spider-like leaves.

A close up horizontal image of a Tillandsia cyanea with a bright pink and purple flower spike, pictured on a soft focus background.

Heights range from eight to 10 inches.

Plants produce a hot pink quill-like spike with three-petaled purple-blue flowers on its edges.

T. cyanea

This plant has roots that are able to take up nourishment, and unlike other species, it also thrives in potting soil.

Find T. cyanea plants now from Amazon.

12. Didisticha

T. didisticha is a xeric type with stiff, arching gray-green foliage in the shape of a loose rosette.

A close up horizontal image of Tillandsia didisticha growing outdoors in a rock garden.
T. didisticha. Photo by Joao Medeiros, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

This is a large variety that can reach 12 inches tall.

The flower is a salmon-colored inflorescence with tiny white blossoms.

13. Funckiana

T. funckiana is a xeric type that looks like a cluster of light green balsam fir needles coated with a light dusting of snow.

A close up horizontal image of Tillandsia funckiana with bright orange tips pictured on a white background.

Soft to the touch, it may wind or stretch upright, to a length of about eight inches.

Its flower is a long red tubular blossom that gracefully emerges at the tip of the narrow leaves.

14. Ionantha

The rosettes of xeric T. ionantha start out silver-green and change in shade to take on red tones at bloom time.

A close up vertical image of the bright foliage of an indoor air plant pictured on a soft focus background.

This type has a petite stature, reaching mature heights of one to three inches.

T. ionantha

When the tubular purple blossoms burst from the rosette’s red center, the effect of green, red, and purple creates a miniature horticultural tapestry.

Find T. ionantha plants now from Amazon.

15. Recurvata

T. recurvata, aka small ball moss, is a rounded xeric type with narrow silver-green leaves that resemble the twigs in an intricate bird’s nest.

A close up vertical image of a T. recurvata growing outdoors pictured on a soft focus background.
T. recurvata. Photo by Kohlnf, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

In the brightest light, the foliage may have a reddish cast.

Mature heights reach six to 12 inches.

T. recurvata

The flower is a rather nondescript spike of green to red, on a green inflorescence.

Find T. recurvata plants now from Amazon.

16. Usneoides

Also known as Spanish moss, T. usneoides is a xeric variety that is unique in that it grows in a downward direction, clinging and hanging from host surfaces in the wild.

A close up vertical image of air plants growing outdoors on the trunk of a tree, pictured on a soft focus background.

Like a mass of tangled gray-green hair, foliage may exceed 20 feet in length.

T. usneoides

The flowers are brown and nondescript, but they have a pleasant nighttime fragrance.

Find T. usneoides now from Amazon.

17. Xerographica

With its trichome-covered spring green foliage, xeric T. xerographica is one of the largest, sturdiest, longest living air plants.

Its wide leaves are deeply curled in a compact, rounded form.

A close up vertical image of large T. xerographica growing indoors under grow lights surrounded by different types of foliage.
T. xerographica. Photo by Mokkie, Wikimedia Commons, via CC BY-SA.

It’s a pleasant home companion that can withstand both direct and indirect sunlight, sometimes growing as large as three feet wide and twenty-four inches tall over a lifetime of twenty years or more.

Flowering consists of a green inflorescence up to 15 inches tall, with red and green coloration.

Get Creative with Collectible Tillandsia

Tillandsia are very versatile plants. In USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 11, they grow well outdoors, and in all zones, they make easy-care houseplants.

A close up horizontal image of two air plants growing in small wire stands pictured on a soft focus background.

In addition, with a little dab of floral glue, available from Amazon, they make eclectic wearable accessories and gift-wrapping decorations. And while they don’t require soil, they do need water, so keep that in mind as you imagine the possibilities.

And finally, plants grown indoors don’t get the nutrients they would get if they were in their natural habitat. You can provide supplemental nutrition with fertilizer.

A product you may like is this air plant fertilizer from Cute Farms via Amazon. Mix it per package instructions, for a monthly dunk or soak.

Choose your favorites and get started. There are so many to collect, I know you’re going to have fun!

If you enjoy indoor gardening, you’ll want to read these guides next:

© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Artistic Solutions, Aquatic Arts Store, CTS Air Plants Store, Garden in the City, Succulents Box, Terrain, and The Air Plant Shop. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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Kaylynne
Kaylynne (@guest_10898)
21 days ago

I identified several of mine. Thank you.
Wish I could Id the two varieties of native Florida giants I have.