Imagine you are a plant and you don’t need roots to tether you to the Earth. Instead you live in a cluster of other like-minded individuals, anchored in the canopies of trees & bushes in tropical & sub-tropical habitats. You have a great view with the company of birds & other tree dwelling animals. Forgoing roots, you inhale nutrients from soft breezes & the rain since you have developed trichomes, specialized structures on your leaves to do so. What looks like roots at your base are actually anchors that hold you to another tree or shrub. Like any other plant you can flower & make seeds but additionally you can produce “pups,”vegetative clones from your base.
Welcome to air plants, genus Tillandsia of the Bromeliad family (pineapples are bromeliads). There are approximately 650 types of Tillandsias that exist. They are the nonconformists of the plant world- maybe that’s why I love them. I had been vaguely aware of these plucky little plants from displays in specialty stores. My minor in college was botany I I always considered myself a plant geek. Then one of my 6th grade science students gave me an air plant on a holder that his mother made from a rock, wire & beads. Instantly I was smitten.
I began to imagine the possibilities of other artistic applications to combine with air plants. That was my last year of teaching before retirement. I was looking for some kind of artistic endeavor to immerse myself in post teaching that could tie in my numerous interests and perhaps generate some additional income. Thus I created ArtisanAirplants, a creative business endeavor where I could combine my work in ceramics & found objects with Tillandsias. Up went an Etsy shop and entry into art shows.
Some months later I found myself with 200 or so of these unique plants that looked like they could have escaped from another planet. I started designing pieces designed for a certain species of air plant in mind. Many of my ceramic air plant holders are intentionally twisted & bent playing off the whimsical qualities of the plants. My work often reminds people of something out of a Dr. Suess landscape. I also like to juxtapose them with non- natural objects such as vintage tools & hardware.
On travels around Oregon & beyond I am always on the lookout for what universe has to offer me for my art. You might find me frequenting thrift stores & garage sales for unusual accessories. My kayak & backpack will often be loaded down with rocks and other interesting pieces of flotsam & jetsam to use for pieces. Treasure hunting is an integral part of my artistic process.
If you are a plant lover, one great thing about Tillandsias are that they are so small that you can have lots of them. They adorn several of my window sills, walls, and hang over my kitchen sink. I have a living bathroom “curtain” made of Spanish moss. Kids love them. I tell my kid customers that they are easier to take care of than a hamster.
There is a sad misconception that abounds that Tillandsias need little or no care. If you do decide to bring air plants into your home, please be aware that they need care similar to a houseplant, ie proper lighting, ventilation, & watering. The main difference is that since they forgo soil, you need to water them by soaking & misting. Avoid buying from big box stores as they don’t know how to care for them properly. You best bet is a specialty plant store or an online air plant company.
Consider them the next time you go to buy a gift, for a loved one or yourself. They will make happy company.