Air plant care cheat sheet

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Orchids hanging in pots

Are Orchids Air Plants?

Though they share some similarities, no, orchids are not air plants. Orchids are members of the Orchidaceae family, while air plants, or Tillandsia, are part of the Bromeliaceae family.

Like air plants, most orchids don’t grow in soil as it’s too dense and doesn’t drain well. Some species, however, do grow in soil but most are either Lithophytes, which grow on rocks, or Epiphytes, which means they grow on other plants and trees.

Orchids are usually sold in pots, growing in well-draining mediums like coir, perlite, vermiculite, rock wool, sphagnum moss, or shredded bark. This helps to retain some water around the roots but is mainly used to anchor the plants.

Orchids vs Air Plants

Orchids and air plants may seem similar at first glance but they are very different types of plants. Despite their notable differences, many orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants or surfaces without needing soil. This characteristic is similar to air plants that also use their aerial roots to attach themselves to trees or other surfaces.

However, there is one noticeable difference between orchid and air plant roots which I will explain in the next section below ‘Growth Habits’.

Both plant families are renowned for their captivating variety of floral structures. Orchids are celebrated for their intricate and diverse blooms, whereas air plants showcase a compelling assortment of leaf shapes and vibrant flower colors during their blooming phase.

Waxy looking orchid leaves

Don’t get me wrong, orchids are stunning plants, however, you really can’t beat a blushing air plant with its vivid tones of purple through to red. For example, if you have never seen one of the Tillandsia Ionantha varieties in full blush it’s a sight to behold.

The Ionantha varieties are especially well known for their blushing scarlet red, pink, or even yellow leaves – their flowers are a stunning violet color.

Remember that although orchids share some similarities with air plants, they have unique care requirements.

Growth Habits of Orchids

Orchids are predominantly epiphytic, which means they’ve adapted to grow on other plants, like trees, rather than in soil. In tropical regions, this distinct growth pattern allows orchids to thrive in their natural environment.

A key feature of orchid’s growth habit is their aerial roots which serve multiple purposes. These specialized root systems not only anchor the orchid to its host but also help the plant absorb moisture and nutrients from the air and surrounding environment.

Orchid with aerial roots

In addition to their aerial roots, orchids are classified based on two growth patterns – sympodial and monopodial. Sympodial orchids grow sideways, while monopodial orchids grow upwards in a single stem. This distinction is crucial when understanding the care and cultivation of these spectacular plants.

It’s easy to see why some people think that orchids are air plants. While orchids exhibit some characteristics similar to air plants, such as their aerial roots and epiphytic growth, they belong to different plant families.

Air plants are scientifically known as Tillandsia and are part of the Bromeliaceae family, whereas orchids belong to the Orchidaceae family.

Environment Necessary for Orchids

To ensure your orchids flourish, it’s crucial to provide the right balance of light, temperature, and humidity.

Light is an essential factor for orchids as they require indirect yet bright illumination. Placing your orchid near a window with filtered light or using a sheer curtain to diffuse the sunlight protects the plant from harsh direct rays while giving it enough exposure. Be mindful of your orchid’s light requirements as different types may need more or less light exposure.

Temperature plays a significant role in an orchid’s health, with most varieties preferring warm environments. Aim to keep the area between 60°F and 80°F for optimal growth. Remember orchids cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 45°F so avoid exposing them to extreme cold.

Keep an eye on the temperature fluctuations in your home to ensure your plants remain comfortable. Most air plants thrive when the temperature remains between 50-90°F (10-32°C) so their range is similar to orchids.

Orchid in a high humidity environment

Humidity is another essential aspect of an orchid’s environment. These plants thrive in humidity levels between 40% and 70%. Placing a humidifier near your orchids or placing your pots on a tray filled with water and pebbles can help maintain these moisture levels.

Misting the plant’s leaves occasionally can also boost the humidity in the area if needed. The ideal humidity level for most species of air plants is between 50-70% so once again their requirements are similar.

Air circulation is equally important for the well-being of your orchids. Good airflow helps prevent the growth of mold and other diseases while providing the necessary nutrients for the plant’s aerial roots.

To achieve this, keep your orchids away from stagnant air, like a tight corner or closed room. Instead, place your plants in an area with a gentle breeze or use a small fan to circulate the air.

Can You Keep Air Plants With Orchids?

Yes, you can certainly keep air plants with orchids. In fact, due to their similar temperature and humidity requirements, they are ideal companions.

The comparison between air plants and orchids goes beyond their shared temperature and humidity preferences. Their compatibility extends to sunlight requirements, with air plants and orchids favoring conditions that offer bright, indirect light.

Placing them together in a suitable location will ensure they receive the illumination they need for optimal growth and blooming.

Orchid in bloom

The most noticeable difference concerning their care is how to water them. Orchids absorb water and nutrients through their roots so you water them like regular house plants. In contrast, air plants absorb water and nutrients through their leaves and therefore need a weekly soak for about 20-30 minutes submerged in a bowl of water.

Their common aversion to traditional soil environments makes orchids excellent companions for air plants.

The close relationship between air plants and orchids creates a balanced and visually striking arrangement, supported by their parallel needs for temperature, humidity, lighting, and soil-free conditions.

Author - Stephen Little
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