hundreds of blushing and blooming tillandsia ionantha air plants

All Things Air Plant: A Dictionary for Air Plant Terms

1 comment by Jamie Beck
If you’re a novice plant enthusiast you may be wondering what all the scientific terms surrounding air plants mean. We don’t blame you! It can feel intimidating to begin learning about tillandsia when you don’t understand the complex terminology that comes along with them. For this reason, we've complied an explanation for most of the common terms used when talking about air plants!



Scientists refer to living things by their binomial nomenclature, or the two terms used to classify a plant or animal. Air plants are no exception! Tillandsia is the genus classification that describes a large number of epiphytic plants that mainly grow in tropical and subtropical regions. For example, Tillandsia bulbosa is a popular air plant with Tillandsia being the genus classification and bulbosa being the species classification. 


tillandsia xerographica air plant in a tree in the wild


An epiphyte is a plant that obtains its nutrients and moisture from the air around it. This is why air plants have their name-they are epiphytic plants because they absorb what they need to survive from the air. For the most part epiphyte plants live in tropical climates, but some are known to thrive in dryer temperatures. Some recognizable examples of epiphytes are Tillandsia, Bromeliads, Orchids, and Moss.


Lithophyte and Saxicolous

Lithophyte and Saxicolous don’t exactly roll off the tongue. But, as confusing as these interchangeable words sound, they actually have simple definitions. Lithophytes or Saxicolous plants, like orchids, ferns, and algae, are plants that grow in, on, or amongst rocks. Some air plants like Tillandsia tectorum are considered lithophytes because they have adapted to grow amongst rocks in their native climates.


tillandsia cacticola in a terrarium display


Caulescent plants are those that have a stem visible as it grows, with new leaves forming every higher-up the stem as it matures. Tillandsia latifolia is a commonly known caulescent air plant as it can be found growing on a long stem. Cacticola (picture to the right) is another perfect example of a caulescent plant.



An inflorescence is the cluster of flowers that grow from a main stem. Flowering air plants like Tillandsia xerographica produce one or several colorful blooms that can last anywhere from a few days to many months.


small tillandsia streptophylla air plant


Trichomes are the small hairs visible on the outer skin of air plants. These trichomes are a big part of what helps air plants survive. Not only do trichomes help air plants reflect solar radiation, but they also serve to catch nutrients that sustain the plant. Air plants are able to absorb water thanks to their trichomes.


tillandsia ionantha air plant with pups

Offsets and Pups 

Offsets, or more commonly “pups”, are the plant babies that stem from a mother plant. After a mother plant blooms, pups are likely to grow out of the mother plant’s base. Sometimes multiple pups will develop so that they can be removed from their mother plant, resulting in the exciting possibility for multiple individual plants.



Did you know all Tillandsia are considered Bromeliads? Bromeliads are plants characterized by short stems and stiff leaves. These plants usually grow in tropical or subtropical regions. Some large bromeliads grow in soil while others, like tillandsia, prefer to attach themselves to trees.


As air plants mature, they will go through different color cycles. When a plant reaches maturity and prepares to bloom, the leaves will often transform from green to pink, red, or orange. We call this "blushing". A blushing plant is a sign that a bloom is soon to follow!

1 comment


    Very impressed thanks guys

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