Tillandsia Art

Can a plant be a piece of art? Some might say no. I say, absolutely, yes! You might think “Of course a plant person would say that!” Perhaps it sounds like I’m elevating plants to an unreasonable status. Let me be clear. I don’t think that all plants are works of art, but Tillandsias, or Air Plants, are not your regular, run of the mill plant. Tillandsia Art, therefore, is something distinct and even extraordinary!

This marvellous, group of ancient plants (estimated at around 30 million years old) are members of the Bromeliad family and come in copious sizes, forms and colors. In fact there are at least 500 known varieties and can be as small as your thumb or as large as your head.

But the thing that I like most about them, what makes them unique, and frankly magnificent, is that they grow without soil!

What?! You are probably exclaiming. That’s right. No soil. No planting. None of it! You can stick it on a shelf or hang it on the wall; you can put it in a glass bowl or string them up on a wire. This is why Tillandsias are without a doubt, Living Art. Without the limiting nature of their soil-bound counterparts, they can go just about anywhere.

How to care for them

It’s tempting for me to dive into the care of these crazy little relics but I’ll resist the urge. My mission with this blog is about creating magnificent gardens through great design, proper tools and dynamic art. Caring for Air Plants properly is absolutely important, because while they are very low maintenance plants, they by no means are not NO maintenance. They need a very special kind of attention and if you don’t give it to them, you will most assuredly kill them. So instead I suggest you check out airplant.com to get the basics.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up! Let’s learn creative techniques on how to use them to create your own one-of-a-kind Tillandsia Art.


Creating your own piece of art with tillandsias is limited only by your imagination. Your piece can be simple, using only a single plant, or large and complex, using multiple varieties. Here are some examples of how I’ve used them in creating works of art for myself and my clients. I also have ideas I’ve been tossing around but haven’t executed yet.

Wall Art #1, GreenWall

Green walls are an amazing answer to small space design. Indoors or out, sometimes the only way to green up the space is by going up. There are a slew of products out there for this: wooly pockets are a favorite, and other cell based planters are common as well. Tillandsias, however, offer a fantastic alternative. But there is a right and wrong way to do it.

Learn from my mistake! I had a client who was looking for an 8’x2’ green wall. Attempt #1 was pretty beautiful. The client loved it. I loved it. Unfortunately the Air Plants did not love it. It was not successful.

  • I used marine grade plywood as my framing board. This part was successful. Since the plants need to have water sprayed upon them regularly you need a moisture barrier which can hold water that won’t seep through to the wall. Marine grade plywood is great for that.
  • I used nails as supports for each air plant. Not in and of itself a problem but ultimately was not a good solution for my design.
  • I used a variety of Tillandsia called Ionantha Guat for the entire board. Turns out, these are very small and not very hardy. They are sensitive and short lived.
  • I placed the Ionantha Guats too close together on the hard board. They began to die almost immediately. I replaced about 1/4 of the plants but they continued to die until I reworked the design.

Why did they die? Probably a combination of a few factors. Because they were placed so closely together but up against a hard board, the theory is that the 3 main saboteurs were 1. Not enough air flow, 2. They continuously dried out too quickly after being watered, 3. Their delicate nature was sensitive to the above two issues and so they could not get established.

Wall Art #2, GreenWall

TIllandsia Art

I ended up revising the greenwall and started almost completely from scratch. I kept the board, removed the nails, did some research, and found a new technique and some new plants.

  • Instead of nails, I used peat moss held to the board with 1” chicken wire. I then nested the Tillandsias with their wiry roots (and some fine gauged wire) in to the framing I had created.
  • Instead of the tiny Ionantha Guat, I used a combination of Bronze Crown, Stricta Hugo, Aeranthos Purple Leather and several others to make a wall that varied in color and texture. It was far more dynamic and contained larger, more sturdy plants to withstand the rigors of the indoor conditions. The peat moss rather than just the board backing allowed the plants to hold moisture better, preventing them from drying out instantly but did not keep them soggy either. A beautiful result.

notes about greenwalls

When building an extensive green wall, the client should be made aware that, 1. Just because they are Air Plants, it does not mean that they require no maintenance and 2. Tillandsias die and need to be replaced just like any other plants. ALL green walls require ongoing maintenance and a replacement program (and budget). Tillandsias are no different.

Wall Art #3, Accent on Art

Some of the larger Air Plants are so primevally dramatic all by themselves. They yearn to shine in the spotlight all alone. I have created a mounting board with long nails to support them but the nails were insufficient—the plant would tip forward and fall off its perch. The solution was to use nylon wire and a hook and eye solution. The eye was screwed into the board and the nylon wire with a hook was wrapped around the base of the plant and affixed to the eye. Voila! The best part is that the nylon is practically invisible.

tillandsia art Curtain

Ok, I’ve never actually done this one but I totally want to give it a try. Air Plants can literally be strung up and survive the process. By that I mean that you can use a needle and nylon thread and basically sew through them to create an effect such as a curtain. Take the needle and nylon and pierce it through the base of the plant, tie knots if you want to prevent them from sliding down. This will not kill the plant (I know! Hard to believe, right?) I’ve seen it done but would love to try making a full doorway curtain with them. If any of you have done this, send pictures!

Tillandsia Art Planters

About a year ago I received one of my favorite requests from a client. Someone had gifted them an old steel wheelbarrow. My instructions were to transform it into a beautiful planter that…wait for it… would not require irrigation. The wheel barrow was alarmingly unstable and could not bear a great deal of weight. But the clients were adventurous and artists so I knew I could have some fun with it.

Using lava rocks (because they are extremely lightweight), some of the artists own pottery and a wide array of Tillandsias, strategically placed, I knew we could make something fantastic.


The moral of this art story is that ANYTHING can be turned into a fabulous piece of botanical art by incorporating Tillandsias into it. Hopefully you’ve gotten a few ideas to get you going and you’re ready to give it a try yourself. I think you’ll fall in love with them as I have. And if you’re not ready to make your own, we at Minanda Landscape Design offer custom, one of a kind garden art and would be happy to work with you to create a spectacular piece of Tillandsia art for your home, office or outdoor room! Just give us a call or send an email: minanda@mac.com



the Truth about plant death

I’ve got some cold, hard truths for you today. There’s no point in beating around the bush about it (pun intended) so I’m just going to say it. You ready?…Plants die. That’s right. It’s a grim fact and no one escapes the carnage. If you tend to plants, you will kill plants. If you think that’s rough, keep in mind that when you design or maintain gardens for others, you will kill their plants too.

Ouch! I know. But sometimes you just have to rip the band-aid off.

Who Kills Plants?

Everyone! If you want to know why plants are dying, here’s the thing, plants die for those with the proverbial “green thumb” and those with a “brown thumb”. No matter the color of your digits, no matter how much you pay attention to, or ignore them, they are living entities that have a cycle of life and death. Some impress us with their long liv-ed-ness and others seem to kick the bucket even before we’ve put our tools away after planting them. And others have a little help from the creatures and critters that share the space.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Even the best gardeners kill plants although they might make it seem otherwise. Those “plant whisperers”, have probably killed at least as many as they have nurtured to great beauty. In fact, you know what makes them so great at keeping beautiful plants? It’s in fact, because they’ve killed so many. The key is that each time one doesn’t survive, you learn something new about it. Perhaps the Sunset book said sun to part shade and you discover that, whoops! Not so happy with the shade part in that equation. Lesson learned.

My Plant Graveyard

Many years ago, I went to a course for Mediterranean garden design. The instructor was world famous in her field. Yet, of all the information that she shared the thing that really stuck was that she kept a very special planter in her garden. One that contained the markers for each of the plants that she had killed. Hundreds of them! She called it her plant graveyard and said, “If you’re not killing some plants, you’re just not trying hard enough”. She inspired me to be brave. I learned that when I’m not afraid of killing plants, I’m able to be way more creative in trying new ones. What a gift, not just for me but for my clients!

In an effort to embrace the truth, I created my own Plant Graveyard. I even performed a tiny little ceremony. Ok, not a ceremony per se, but when each new tag was placed in my horticultural place of repose, I’d take a moment and reflect on where I may have gone wrong. What signs did I miss that could have prevented this tragic outcome. Was I too neglectful? Did I smother it with too much…water, pruning love etc? It helped.

Understanding the life cycle of plants helped me become a more mindful gardener; also, a more mindful designer. And you can too. Some plants just aren’t meant for longevity. It’s helpful to know that before putting them in a garden.

What else can be learned from dying plants

Ok, now that you’re settling in to the idea of plant mortality, let’s dive into the nitty gritty of why plants die. Here’s the very important, key information about plant death: although we simply cannot prevent them all, we can definitely be vigilantes to defend the gardens we protect. There are a handful of the most pervasive culprits that with knowledge and a good checklist we can guard against.

Some dangers are obvious. Some very sneaky. Here’s what you should look for, and how to defeat the offenders. Having a plant graveyard is fine, but let’s save as many botanical souls as we can*.

Dying plant causes
Dying plant causes
Dying plant causes
Dying plant causes

*I have purposely not included plant diseases and pests in this post. They certainly are villains in the garden, however, they comprise a completely separate and unique topic which extends beyond our scope here. We will discuss in a later post.