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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, and 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 as 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 a pup! It’s a win-win.

Love your Air Plants

44 Comments
  1. Tammie S says:

    Thank you for the great information on air plants! I never knew about the pups! I’m excited to get some and try it again, my first round of it was not successful. 😞 my question is can I use rain water for them? Or what’s the best kind of water? Thanks Anna!

    1. Anna says:

      Tammie,
      Yes, you can use rainwater. Here is an article on watering air plants!

      WATERING AIR PLANTS

      After watering, be sure to let them dry upside-down so prevent rot.

      HOW TO DRY YOUR AIR PLANTS

      I wish you all the best in caring for these amazing, unique plants,
      Anna

  2. Valentine says:

    This was a wonderful article- I’ve enjoyed reading this immensely.
    Thank you so much.

    1. Anna says:

      Valentine,
      Your kind words mean a lot to me!
      Thank YOU so much,
      Anna

  3. Srivatsa says:

    Hello Anna,
    Thank you so much for a great article. I recently bought two Ionanthas and is it possible to say by looking at them how old are they and when they can start blooming?
    And what is the life span of Ionantha ?

    1. Anna says:

      Srivatsa,
      Thank you for your kind words! I am so glad you found me!

      While it is difficult to estimate the age of air plants based on their size and when they will bloom. I can say that ioanthas will get their best color if placed in sunlight and that while ioanthas are quite small by themselves if left to clump, you will, over time, get a very large clump with hundreds of ionanthas. Be patient as a large clump takes several years.

      I don’t know how long a single ioantha will live, but an established clump can go on indefinitely.

      Enjoy the process! Air plants are so much fun (and unusual).

      Best,
      Anna

  4. Bridget Whitfield says:

    I have a question about my Tillandsia Fushii, she bloomed & I didn’t know to take the stem off after the bloom was gone. I just now read that I am supposed to & cut it off. Is there anyway Fushii will still have offsets? It’s been approximately 2-4 weeks since the blooms have been gone. Also, I read somewhere that certain kinds of Fushii don’t have offsets, is this true? Also do my air plants that I plan to let clump, need to be hung? I have two more with offsets & I’m not sure whether or not to hang them or just leave them sitting in their bowl. They don’t seem to want to sit up straight, putting pressure on their pups. That’s why I thought they may need to be hanging. Thank you so much for your help & your very valuable information on air plants & may God bless you richly. Sincerely, Bridget Whitfield

    1. Anna says:

      Bridget,
      Good news, leaving the flower stem on won’t affect your air plants ability to produce offsets. Once the flower has faded, cutting off the spent flower just makes the air plant look prettier. It is hard to determine an exact timetable for when tillandsias will produce offsets. I’ve had several of the same variety flower at the same time and the larger, more mature tillandsias produced offsets, while the smaller, younger tillandsias did not. If your air plant does not produce pups, don’t be too disappointed, just be patient and keep trying. To my knowledge, all T. fushii will produce pups.

      To clump your air plants they do not need to be hung. Personally, I don’t hang mine. Either way works.

      Best of luck with your T. fushii! I love those cute, airy air plants!
      Anna

  5. Krisann says:

    Hi! I noticed a small little pup on mine and somehow knocked it off while drying them and was wondering if there is anyway the baby will still live off the mother plant ?

    1. Anna says:

      Krisann,
      There is a very good chance that the pup will survive. Only time will tell for certain!
      Keeping my fingers crossed for your air plant baby!
      Anna

  6. Pampa says:

    Hello Anna
    It’s great to know how these plants bloom and produce pups. I’m really learning a lot about these little treasures which I had bought from San Mateo, last November and they’re really doing well in Agra,India, where I reside. Air plants are very uncommon in our country. This makes them, unique.
    I really thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the tips.
    Love
    Pampa

    1. Anna says:

      Pampa,
      They are fairly unusual in the US as well. When I tell people I have a website about air plants, they wonder what air plants are. You’re right – air plants are little treasures!
      Best,
      Anna

  7. Judy Larkin says:

    Hi Anna,
    Great article! I have a Stricta Soft leaf that has a bloom on it! Lately in the last month I’ve noticed the bottom area where the leaves fall off has turned brown through all leaves. Is this lack of water? I water once a week. My others are doing well. I have this one near a kitchen window that gets afternoon sun and I give them lots of air through that window. But perhaps it’s gotten too much sun even though it’s a winter sun here in San Diego region.
    Best regards,
    Judy

    1. Anna says:

      Judy,
      Thank you! After a while, the lower leaves will grow old, turn brown and die. If this is the case, simply remove the lower leaves. If the air plant is brown and squishy at the bottom, the air plant may have rotted at the base. Unfortunately, rot is irreversible. In the future, just be sure to let the air plant dry out up-side-down really well after watering. Hopefully, the stricta will produce a pup or two for you!
      Have a lovely day in gorgeous San Diego!
      Anna

  8. Erica says:

    Approximately how many years can air plants live for? Thanks so much!

    1. Anna says:

      Erica,
      I wish I could give you an approximate answer, but all I can say is for several years. I don’t have an exact time frame.
      All my best!
      Anna

  9. Connie Spencer says:

    My air plant is growing and is almost to big for the bowl i have. Can I put it in a bigger bowl so it can have room to grow.

    1. Anna says:

      Connie,
      Congratulations taking such good care of your air plant that it’s growing and thriving. Yes, of course, you can place it into a larger bowl.
      Have a great day!
      Anna

  10. Stacy says:

    Is there a good site or app for identifying air plants and how they bloom and have pups??

    1. Anna says:

      Stacy,
      Thank you for your question. The best site to go to for identifying air plants is to go to a site that sells lots of air plants such as:

      https://www.airplantsupplyco.com/collections/air-plants-all

      To initiate blooming all you can do is to give your air plant proper care. The three pillars of proper air plant care are indirect light, water (soak and dry), and air movement.

      The Air Plant Supply Co. also has a post on air plant propagation:

      https://www.airplantsupplyco.com/blogs/articles/blog

      Best of luck with your air plants!
      Anna

  11. Elleen says:

    Thank you so much for your article. I have recently become interested in growing air plants. So far I have only done some research. I have a couple of questions though. How is it best to grow a clump – hanging, in a dish or on wood or……? How is a plant anchored to an object to begin? I will look forward to any help you can offer. Thank you much.

    1. Anna says:

      Elleen,
      Thank you for your thoughtful questions. Growing clumps are lots of fun. I too like to grow clumps. I figure single air plants are easy to come by as they are fairly inexpensive, but a clump, now that is a real treasure!
      I don’t know that there is a best way. But the ways that you have mentioned – hanging, or in a container, or mounted are all possible ways to successfully grow air plants. I have grown them both hanging and in a dish. If you choose to grow in a container, it is vital that the clump is allowed to thoroughly dry after soaking in water before returning to the container. An open dish provides more air movement than a bowl with a small opening or a terrarium type enclosure.

      As far as promoting the health of the air plant, I recommend an open dish or hanging the air plant to a terrarium.

      It was good to hear from you,
      Anna

  12. Shelley says:

    My plant, a large type, bloomed in spring but still no pups. Is this typical?

    1. Anna says:

      Shelley,
      It takes a lot of energy for a plant to produce pups. Be sure that your air plants have enough light – which is like food for your air plants – water, and air movement. Is usually takes a couple of months for the pups to form – so if you don’t have pups by now, I’m sorry to say, but they probably won’t come.
      A couple of varieties that have successfully produced offsets for me are:
      T. AERANTHOS

      T. CAPITATA

      T. TRICOLOR V MELANOCRATER

      T. CAPUT MEDUSAE

      Hopefully, one of these air plants will have better results for you. Remember the three pillars of air plants care: water (soak and dry), light, and air flow. These three hints will give you healthy and hopefully reproducing, air plants.
      Have a great day and thank you for reaching out to me.
      Yours,
      Anna

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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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