Types of air plants: 8 varieties to love

Aside from being low maintenance there are some types of air plants which will pop with colorful flowers and foliage in your displays

types of air plants Tillandsia display at the Great Pavillon at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015
(Image credit: Shawn Hempel / Alamy Stock Photo)

All types of air plants are pretty little plants, but what's all the hype about? Well the amazing fact is that they need no soil to thrive! It might seem like magic but in fact they extract the water and food they need from the air though their leaves rather than through roots.

But why should you care? Other than being super-cool, the fact that they don't need soil also allows you to display them in containers and settings that would be unsuitable for most other houseplants, such as in glass jars, tucked into seashells or decorating pieces of driftwood.

You might be worried that given their uniqueness that air plants will be a tricky business. But in fact they are surprisingly low maintenance as long as you give them the conditions they like.

These are the best types of air plants to look out for

From exotic looking flowers, to colorful foliage, there's so much that air plants can bring to your home, making them one of the best indoor plants you can get. 

Take a look at some of our favorite types of air plants to find the right one for your houseplant display. 

1. Tillandsia aeranthos

Tillandsia (Tillandsia aeranthos), blooming

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Ideal for beginners, this colourful air plant produces spidery green leaves and flowers reliably each year, its vivid pink or red bracts and deep purple petals putting on a dazzling show. 

It is one the hardiest types of air plants and will be more than happy outside in the garden from early summer. If you're having them inside the house then they make a great plants for bathrooms

2. Tillandsia argentea

different tillandsia air plants on a white background

(Image credit: kipgodi / Getty)

Like a spiky sea urchin, this tiny plant creates a fountain of pale silvery leaves. In fall, the foliage is joined by slim red flowerheads with purple petals, which appear on long stems. 

Easy to care for, it will make a beautiful ball of plants over time and is an ideal choice for beginners as part of your indoor garden ideas as well as outdoors in warm regions. Mist rather than dunk this species to water it.

3. Tillandsia xerographica

Tillandsia xerographica in a bamboo stand.

(Image credit: Tatiana Buzmakova / Getty)

Known as the king of the air plants, this silvery star bears a rosette of broad grey leaves which curl at the ends to create a striking display with the rest of your indoor plant ideas

The violet blooms, which appear on mature plants, are long-lasting and emerge from yellowish bracts on a long stem. A desert species, it likes a sunny spot and should be misted rather than submerged in water. In winter, keep it in cooler conditions: 50- 60°F (10-15°C) is ideal.

4. Tillandsia cyanea

Tillandsia cyanea air plant on a rock

(Image credit: Anne Gilbert / Alamy Stock Photo)

Justifiably popular, this large species grows to about 12in (30cm) or more and produces upright green leaves. The long-lasting flowerhead appears on a spike, and comprises a pink oval bract and dainty violet-blue blooms that provide months of color and interest. 

One of the best low maintenance indoor plants it's easy to care for, needs no special attention and makes a stunning centrepiece for any air plant collection.   

5. Tillandsia bulbosa

Tillandsia bulbosa isolated against white background

(Image credit: Fir Mamat / Alamy Stock Photo)

Named after its bulb-like centre, this unusual plant strikes a pose with its long glossy green leaves which turn red when the flower buds start to form. The tubular blooms are pink and purple and appear on mature plants in spring. One of the best plants for beginners, it needs no special treatment to perform well.

6. Tillandsia brachycaulos multiflora

Tillandsia Brachycaulos hanging on a string

(Image credit: Joimi Joh Abi / Alamy Stock Photo)

This species creates a clump of slightly curving green leaves, which turn cherry red when the plant is about to flower. Especially if you keep it in bright, humid conditions. 

Try attaching it to a hanging container and make it one of the best indoor hanging plants. The purple flowers produce a colorful display and you will often be rewarded with more than one bloom at a time. 

7. Tillandsia albertiana

Tillandsia (Tillandsia albertiana), blooming

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

Loved for its large bright red flowers, which are short-lasting but can be produced in succession for over three months on established clumps. This pretty air plant, which is a stunning tropical plant, also sports contrasting grass-like pale green leaves. It is tolerant of very dry conditions and will prefer misting to being soaked in water.

8. Tillandsia tenuifolia

Narrowleaf airplant (Tillandsia tenuifolia) is an epiphyte herb native to South America and Caribbean Islands.

(Image credit: agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo)

A very easy species, this air plant will decorate your home or your tropical garden ideas, with its clumps of slim green foliage, and clusters of tubular pink flowers that terminate in vivid purple petals. It soon forms a clump and tolerates neglect, reviving quickly after soaking in a tray of water.

What is the lifespan of an air plant?

The life expectancy of different types of air plants varies, and while some air plants live for just one year, the most popular varieties generally survive for between three to five years, given good care. 

One feature of these plants is that they die after flowering, having put all their energy into making their blooms. However, this is not the end for most plants, as they will produce babies, known as ‘pups’, around the edge of the mother, and these little ones will then grow on to replace those that have been lost.

Variety of air plants, species of evergreen,perennial flowering plants, native to the forests and mountains and deserts of Central and South America and the Southern USA

(Image credit: Geri Lavrov / Getty)

What type of air plant is good for low light?

If your home receives little natural sunlight, opt for green-leaved varieties like Tillandsia bulbosa and Tillandsia cyanea. For sunnier spots, try a silvery Tillandsia xerographica, but keep all air plants, including the desert-dwelling species, away from south-facing windows, which may scorch them during the summer months. Also do not grow them close to radiators and heated floors.

air plants on a tree close up

(Image credit: KKStock / Alamy Stock Photo)

How do I know what type of air plant I have

Generally speaking there are two main types of air plants. There are those which originate from desert regions and those from rainforests. It's easy to tell the difference between the two. All types of air plants will have what look like tiny hairs covering their leaves. These are known as trichomes which are what the plant uses to take up water. This means they are drought tolerant plants as water is taken from the air rather than the soil.

If your air plant has lots of tiny hairs and they are silver and/or fluffy in appearance then it is originally a desert species. Which, though similar in its needs to its rainforest cousin, can tolerate sunnier spots. 

Types of air plants which have a richer green foliage and fewer trichomes (tiny hairs) are the rainforest species and they will prefer shade.

Zia Allaway
Freelance writer

Zia Allaway is a garden book author, editor, and journalist, and writes for a range of gardening and women’s magazines, including Easy Gardens, Homes & Gardens and Livingetc, as well as The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph newspapers. She has also written books for the Royal Horticultural Society and Dorling Kindersley publishers, including Eco-Gardening, Compost, Low Maintenance, Practical House Plant Book, Practical Cactus & Succulent Book, Indoor Edible Garden, What Plant Where, and the Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers.