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Air Plant Growth Cycle

Learn How to Propagate Air Plants

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Air Plant Pups

Oh Baby!

The air plant growth cycle is so exciting because that’s when we see the emergence of baby air plants from the parent plant. When an air plant flowers, it is getting ready to produce pups, or air plant babies.Did You Know - Flowering is the first step in air plant propagation

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

Blooms

The million dollar question is: How do I get my air plant to flower? My answer is to give your air plant good care and you will be rewarded with flowers and pups, as part of the natural air plant growth cycle.

The first stage of the air plant growth cycle is the reproductive process is the emergence of an inflorescence. The inflorescence includes the whole flower stalk from which the flowers will eventually emerge. Some air plants produce a single flower, while others produce a cluster of blooms. Likewise some flowers are long-lasting, the xerographica’s flower can last up to a year long, while others will last only a few days.

Although they only bloom once, the air plant lifespan is not over when the flower has died. The air plant will live for several years after blooming and reproducing.

Tip: To lengthen the life of the bloom, when watering try to keep the flower out of the water.

Air Plant in Bloom

Pups

The next stage in the air plant growth cycle is flowering. A blooming an air plant will produce 1-3 little plantlets, or pups. Usually these little offsets can be found at the base of the plant, but they can also be found protected under dying leaves (so use caution when trimming up your plants). On some varieties pups will emerge out of the flower stalk. Once the air plant pup is about 1/3 the size of the parent plant they can be carefully removed with sharp scissors, and you will have increased your air plant collection. If left alone the air plant will form a clump.

I’ve worried that because my air plant’s flower was damaged, the plant wouldn’t produce any pups, I was so relieved to be wrong. So, even if your flower doesn’t last like you’d like, you will still probably still get pups.

Propagating Air Plants

Clumps

Having your own air plant clump is indeed an enviable possession. That is why most air plant growers, myself included, would much prefer to leave the pups attached and allowed to clump. Most individual air plants are fairly inexpensive, but an air plant clump is a real prize.

An Air Plant beginning to Clump

Air Plant Clump

Tillandsia aeranthos bronze clump.

TIP: If you are interested in growing a clump, two varieties that clump easily are the Tillandsia ionantha fuego and the Tillandsia bergeri.

Seeds

After flowering the air plant will also produce seeds. In their native habitat this usually occurs in the dry season so that the seeds will not be washed away by the rain. Then, when the rain does come the seeds are ready to germinate and grow.

In the greenhouse producing air plants from seed is a lengthy and tedious process. It takes years to grow air plants from seed. The seed must be kept damp, but not too damp as to encourage fungus. The germination process takes about a month and the first few years of growth are very slow. Once the air plant reaches about an inch in length the growth rate increases. Despite the meticulous effort, the results are worth it. Air plants grown from seed tend to be very healthy, vigorous plants.

I’ve never grown an air plant from seed, but if you have, I’d love to hear about it!

Size

A lot of people wonder how big air plants get, or if they even grow at all. Air plants are slow-growing plants. In a lot of ways this is a good thing since they will not outgrow their display for a long time. If you want a large air plant, I suggest buying one that is already large rather than buying a small one and waiting for it to grow bigger. If you want a large air plant, start with the T. xerographica. This air plant is big and beautiful with elegant long leaves.

Likewise, if you’re interested in small air plants T. ioantha,T. butzii, T. bulbosa Guatemala and T. fuchsii are all small. Although all air plants start out small, so little is readily available.

Tip:When purchasing air plants online, you can always add a note to the seller letting them know which size of air plant you are looking for.

To answer the question: How big to air plants get? The answer is: It depends on the air plant. Some can be up to 3 feet long. Air plant clumps can grow indefinitely and are treasured among air plant enthusiasts. Air plants that are small individually, like the T. ioantha, can become large clumps.

Enjoy the Journey

Whether or not your air plants are currently in bloom, enjoy them! That is one of the things I love about air plants, even when they are not flowering they are still beautiful. When they do flower they often reward us with pup! It’s a win-win.

Love your Air Plants

20 Comments
  1. Alyce Aber says:

    In your picture on this post, one of plants in the clump seems to be upside down. Why is this?

    1. Anna says:

      Alyce,
      When new pups grow on a clump they seem to grow out in any direction. They don’t care what is up or down. This helps is what gives them a “clump” shape.
      Have a lovely day!
      Anna

  2. Sue Bonett says:

    I was given an air plant growing in soil. It is doing very well, now ready to bloom and there are 3 pups peeping at me! Can I remove it from the soil now and display it without soil.

    1. Anna says:

      Sue,
      Yes. Air plants do not need to grow in soil as they absorb water and nutrients from their leaves, instead of their roots – like most other plants.
      Best,
      Anna

  3. Donna Crowley says:

    I’m glad I found your informative article about air plants. I have around 10 airplants currently. 2 of them are flowering and 2 have pups attached. Do you have a favorite place to order your air plants?

    1. Anna says:

      Donna,
      I am glad you found my site as well! Congratulations on your flowers and pups! That’s so exciting. Here’s my favorite places to buy air plants:

      https://modernairplants.com/shop/

      Have a lovely day!
      Anna

  4. Jayparth says:

    Hey Anna,
    Indeed thanks for such great tips, 🙂
    However, I am bit worried,since when I bought my air plants in a hurry from nursery,I found out by the time I cam home that my air plant had already bloomed and turned black and dried ,are there any hopes that the plant will bear pups for me? What time does it takes for average air plant to bear pups (taking in consideration that I am having an Tillandsia Ionantha Fuego).

    1. Anna says:

      I wish I could give you an exact time schedule, but I would watch for the pups within a few weeks. If you really want pups I recommend buying air plants online and asking the seller if they have any plants that are soon to flower. Ioanthas are a known for easily reproducing and are a good choice. T. caput-medusae and T. melanocrater v tricolor also flower and produce pups easily. Here’s a link to my favorite online air plant shops:

      https://modernairplants.com/shop/

      Thanks for reaching out to me,
      Anna

  5. Maple says:

    Hello! I am interested in letting my air plants clump up and a couple of mine have already had pups! But I’ve been wondering – do some varieties die after their pup is full grown and others not? Is that why some are better for clumping than others?

    1. Anna says:

      Maple,
      The sad truth is that air plants will only bloom once–and eventually–they will die. The good news is that they will not die right away. The air plant could live for many, many years. I love growing clumps. Sometimes an older plant dies, but there are lots of pups that have replaced that plant. Sometimes the mother plant is so surrounded by pups that it is impossible to remove. After awhile the dead plant shrinks up so you can hardly notice it. Don’t worry about the mother plant dying. Yes, it will happen, but hopefully not for a long while.
      Anna

  6. Susan Cain says:

    Hi Anna!
    I am on Pinterest this morning and so happy when one of your air plant articles popped up and I read it I have since created a board for air plants,naming it…Something in The Air!
    Thank you Anna for your very easy to read and even easier to understand,articles.
    The way you explain each nuance and care tip for air plants,so that the most novice grower can understand,is awesome!
    Anna I have a new interest in purchasing and growing air plants because of you ???

    1. Anna says:

      Susan,
      Thank you for your kind words! They are very much appreciated! You will love growing air plants! Soak them in water weekly. Let them drain after watering. Give them good light. And you’ve pretty much got it!
      Anna

  7. Violet says:

    Thanks Anna for your very invaluable lessons. Can’t wait to increase my collections through offshoots.
    Looking forward to learning so much more.

    1. Anna says:

      Violet,
      It is VERY exciting when air plants bloom and tiny air plants begin to grow off the mother plant!
      Wishing you lots of baby air plants!
      Anna

  8. Tammy says:

    I just started a few months ago trying just a couple here and there. I AM SO glad I found this information on your site!!! Thanks again for the proper way to grow and keep the pups that I have learned from you ? thanks again

    1. Anna says:

      Thank you so much Tammy! Please, let me know if you have any questions about growing or displaying your air plants.
      anna

  9. Linda Andolshek says:

    I have 2 plants that are growing pups but the plant never produced any blooms. Is this uncommon?

    1. Anna says:

      Great question Linda. Depending on the variety, air plants can produce pups before, after or while they bloom.
      Anna

  10. Nancy says:

    Wow! Who knew air plants have such amazing, colorful flowers. Thanks, Anna!

    1. Anna says:

      Thank you Nancy! Some flowers are more colorful than others, but they are all amazing-as are the the pups that follow the flowers!

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