I know that some of you out there might think of tillandsias (or air plants) as glorified weeds. In Florida and Texas, they wantonly cling to branches and shrubs, the unwanted bane of many a gardener's existence. But out here in California, they make rare and beautiful indoor specimen plants, and I've found them an unexpectedly lovely addition to flower arrangements too.
Tillandsias are a member of the bromeliad family, and they're commonly called "air plants" because the roots grow without soil, often attached to other plants. Many varieties have a kind of starburst shape, reminiscent of a sea creature, like something dwelling on a reef. But there are hundreds of species, and some of them look nothing like sea creatures at all ("Spanish moss," for example, is actually a tillandsia). Many varieties produce lovely, colorful blooms with a tropical kind of vibrancy.
Most tillandsias will do quite well indoors with decent light (bright, but not direct) and a weekly misting or a nice soak in a basin of water every other week.
Tillandsias in the Vase
I've used these plants for a number of bridal bouquets this season — they have such a festive air, and of course it's fun for couples to take home the living plants as reminders of the wedding. But I love them for everyday flower arrangements too. They add a sculptural, modern element to a traditional floral bouquet, and the pale silver-tinged colors provide nice contrast with darker flowers and foliage.
Prepping your tillandsias to add them to a bouquet could not be simpler. Use a piece of thick-gauge wire (18-gauge works best, in my experience); floral wire in thicker gauges can be found at craft stores or on floral supply websites. Just insert the wire into the bottom of the tillandsia, either right through the roots or through a leaf. More delicate plants will require a bit of finesse at this step so that they don't lose too many leaves, but you can always remove the damaged leaves later and your plant will remain happy and intact.
Air plants are also perfect for terrariums. Use their natural shape to your advantage to create an interesting effect against the glass walls of your container. All you need are some durable materials to fill in the little landscape: lichen, mossy branches, seed pods, and blue thistles are all good options. The terrariums pictured above, made by Liz Casco at Flora Grubb Gardens, are enchanting little worlds in themselves. All they need, just like the plants alone, is decent natural light and a little mist each week.
You can also use hot glue to affix tillandsias to driftwood (or pretty much anything else!)…or just display them on their own, lined up along a pretty platter or tucked into bowls.
Check out the Flora Grubb web shop for tillandsia terrariums; you can buy loose plants from nurseries online (just do a simple google search).
Images: Caitlin Atkinson / Flora Grubb Gardens; Lili Durkin; Susie Nadler