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A Cautionary Post

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Rust an Air Plant Toxin

A heads up on air plant toxins

You’ve probably heard the worn-out excuse: my dog ate my homework. But, about: my cat are my air plant? Find out of air plants are toxic. While we’re talking about toxins, as an air plants grower, you should be aware of a few things that will compromise the health of your tillandsia. Although these toxins are commonly found, thankfully, they are avoidable.Wow - This post will show you what metals are toxic to air plants

This post may contain affiliate links, but I love all the products I promote.

My Cat Ate My Air Plant

First off, thankfully, no, air plants are not toxic to humans or pets. So if your cat, or dog, or child, eats your air plant it will be no worse for wear.

It is far more likely that that toxins may be introduced to your air plant. Here’s what the toxins are and how to avoid them.


As harmless and pretty as copper appears, it is toxic to air plants and should be avoided. Don’t use copper wire, copper plant holders or pressure treated lumber, as the chemicals to treat the wood contains copper.

Copper Air Plant Toxin

Too bad, so sad! This copper terrarium won’t be housing any air plants.

Boron, Zinc and Urea-Nitrogen

Before using a particular fertilizer read the Guaranteed Analysis to see if boron, zinc or urea-nitrogen are included, as these elements are harmful to air plants.

While you want a fertilizer without boron, zinc or copper, air plants do need nitrogen. They just need it in a usable form. Look for a non-urea nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilizers containing urea depend on bacteria in soil to convert the nitrogen into a usable form for the plants. As air plants are not rooted in soil they cannot absorb nitrogen in this form. Instead the air plant will be harmed instead of helped.

Tip: To be on the safe side, use a fertilizer specifically formulated for tillandsias or bromeliads.

To learn more about fertilizing air plants, check out the post below.

Fertilize for Faster Growth and More Vibrant Blooms

Start Feeding Your Air Plants



When creating displays be advised that rust is toxic to tillandsia.

Rust is toxic to air plants

If using rusted metals, such as the industrial-style object in the background of this photo, make sure the air plants and the rust are far enough away that they don’t touch.

Now that you know which materials and fertilizers to avoid when caring for and displaying your air plants, you can avoid unnecessary air plant fatalities 🙂

  1. Linda says:

    That’s weird, I just read something the other day that said copper was beneficial to air plants. So much conflicting information on the internet

    1. Anna says:

      I think copper is pretty and I see copper air plant containers all over the internet, but I do recommend keeping your air plants away from it. Or, put it to the test and let us know your findings. Keep in mind that it is a slow decline.

  2. Kelly says:

    I was going to put my new arrivals in my copper stainer…..glad I got this tip today! Thanks so much, you just saved the plants I dont even have yet!

    1. Anna says:

      I’m glad you read this post BEFORE you bought your air plants! I hope you get your air plants soon. Here’s a link to a few of my favorites:
      T Harrisii
      T. Xerographica
      T. Velutina
      T. Caput-medusae
      Enjoy your air plants!

  3. Mose says:

    You could always try a nice thick layer or two of clear coat spray paint… I really like Rust-Oleums Triple-thick Glaze. It seems to be safe enough for my tillandsias, especially if the copper pieces aren’t outside in the elements all the time. Just keep an eye on the metal, making sure it’s covered nicely and applying more coats as it wears off with time.

    1. Anna says:

      That’s great advice!

  4. Lisa Faulkner says:

    So what if you coat the copper with several layers of a spray polyurethane, really really well? Would that make a barrier so the copper could still be used? Could this be used on iron (that might rust), they make marine poly!

    1. Anna says:

      Hi Lisa,
      Spraying copper with polyurethane to serve as a protective barrier between air plants and copper (or iron) is definitely worth a try. I am all about experimentation.

  5. Mr. Moosling says:

    How about brass?

    1. Anna says:

      Great question Mr. Moosling! As brass is an alloy of copper and zinc (both of which are toxic to air plants), I would avoid using it. -Anna

    2. Anna says:

      Mr. Moosling,
      I am going to revise my previous position. My brother (who studied chemistry) thinks that although both copper and zinc are toxic to air plants, perhaps, when they are combined to produce brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) they are less reactive. So, I would go ahead and try using brass as an air plant holder and see what happens. If you’d rather not experiment, stick with stainless steal.
      Good Luck!

  6. Michelle sexton says:

    Thank you for this post! I’ve had some air plants that have had a difficult time since I moved them to a copper plant holder. This explains why the tips have been dying.

    1. Anna says:

      Yes, it’s a slow death, but copper is toxic to air plants.

  7. Chantile says:

    This is sooo good to know! I have some super cute copper pieces, but I will find something even better now! Thanks! 🙂

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