An Air Plant Necklace: Cute Idea, But Does It Work?

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Air plant necklace seen in a local hardware store. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

Local stores have started to carry necklaces—yes, pendants designed to slip around your neck!—consisting of a tiny container and a small tillandsia, also called an air plant (usually Tillandsia ionantha). It’s certainly a fun concept, but does it really work?

The answer is yes … if you sit in the sun and don’t move too much!

What Are Air Plants?

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Tillandsia growing on a bark plaque: soil is never necessary. Source: Peter Tristan, http://www.bromeliad.org.au

Air plants (Tillandsia spp.) are epiphytic bromeliads, that is, they normally grow on tree branches (or even telephone wires!) in the wild. Different species are found throughout the subtropical to tropical areas of the New World. Their roots, very short, usually only serve to fix the plant to its support. They absorb all the water they need to grow through their leaves, from rain, dew or even very humid air. Moreover, the greyish coloring of their narrow leaves comes from the scales (trichomes) that cover them, scales created by Mother Nature to absorb water like a sponge.

You can read much more about air plants in the article How to Make Air Plants Thrive.

Logically, if the plant can survive hanging on a tree branch, it should be able to survive draped around your neck, but…

My Own Experience

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Me proudly wearing my tillandsia pendant… the effect didn’t last long! Source: Jo Ellen Myers Sharp

I was offered a tillandsia pendant plant two years ago during a plant show in Florida and I wore it for the day. My first discovery was that, because of the friction, most of the longer, outer leaves were damaged within a few hours, with broken tips and rubbed-off scales. Maybe I was moving too actively? And when I checked again at the end of the day, the plant was gone! The glue seemed to have failed and my poor tillandsia probably ended up on the showroom floor, crushed to death by visitors. What a disappointment!

Maybe if you wear the plant on a quiet day around the house, you could have more success. But a tillandsia, even when it doubles as an ornamental, still remains a living plant and has needs that are not always going to be met when you wear it around your neck.

Plenty of Sun

Few humans spend their day out in the sun … and always facing it, at that. But that’s what your little tillandsia would need to survive. At least 4 hours of sunshine per day … and 10 hours is even better.

Logically, therefore, you should hang the necklace not around your neck, but on some sort of support in front of a sunny window or, in summer, outdoors in a sunny spot. Maybe then you could wear it on occasion … on a day when you don’t move too much!

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Air plants are best watered by soaking them. Source: http://www.varunaweb.com

About once a week or two, water your air plant necklace by plunging it into warm water, preferably rainwater (tap water contains calcium that can stain and damage tillandsia leaves). Let it soak for from 10 minutes to two hours, then shake it to remove any excess moisture. You’ll notice that the plant changes color from gray green to medium green when it has soaked water for a long enough time, as the scales, normally white, turn transparent when moist.

Theoretically, you could also water your tillandsia by spraying it with water, but this is rarely effective unless the spraying is repeated often, as the plant rarely absorbs enough water for its survival from a single brief spray, at least, not given the very dry air found in so many homes.

Other Care

Room temperature is just fine for tillandsias: if you feel comfortable, so will they. On the other hand, don’t go out on a cold winter’s day with a tillandsia around your neck. Not only could the cold kill it (it’s a tropical plant, after all), but the heavy coat you put on to keep yourself warm will likely damage it.

As for fertilizing, don’t worry about it. Like most epiphytic plants, tillandsias get along just fine with the minerals they pick up from rainwater. You could add a pinch or two of orchid fertilizer to the water they soak in once or twice year if you’re very concerned, but don’t expect to see any marked difference.


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Air plant brooch: I suspect it will end up damaged pretty quickly in the course of a normal day. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

There you go! The air plant necklace (or any other tillandsia worn as jewelry: as a brooch, for example) is definitely a cute idea, but it’s not too practical. You’d do better to hang the necklace on a jewelry tree placed in a sunny spot than to wear it around your neck!20180514A HCjpg

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A South Florida Garden Tour

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Day Two: Taking in the Show at TPIE

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A small section of the show at TPIE.

The TPIE (Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition) is the most important foliage and tropical plant show in North America. It’s held every January in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this year from January 18 to 20. I was able to attend this year as part of the 3-day media tour organized by the FNGLA (Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscapers Association) for members of the Garden Writers Association.

TPIE is a trade show showcasing the latest trends in foliage, floral and tropical plants. It covers nearly 5 acres (2 hectares), a virtual indoor garden of show-stopping display and gorgeous plants. It’s essentially designed to allow nurseries, and especially garden centers from eastern North America, to meet up with suppliers of products and plants from all over the world. There were some 400 booths at this year’s show including suppliers from over 30 different countries.

It’s not the first time I’ve attended this show. I’ve been twice before and indeed I’d go every year if I could. It is by far my favorite trade show… and as a garden writer who has to keep up-to-date on the latest garden trends and plants, I visit quite a few over the course of a typical year.

For me, it’s a chance to peruse the newest, most intriguing and most attractive houseplants, plus also the latest in pots and products: things I’ll be able to write about in this blog. There are no plant sales: everything is strictly wholesale… but at least I can start making a list of new plants I want to try.

Visiting the show takes essentially all day. Our group started with a very interesting lecture on how lifestyle trends affect how people buy and use plants followed by a guided tour of the showroom. Then we were on our own, schmoozing with all the nursery people. I took a ton of pictures!

Latest Trends

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Cooking and edible plants ought to go together, right? Here, containers of herbs and vegetables are incorporated directly into the kitchen counter. Genial!

Wear Your Plants

This year it seems that gardeners will not only be growing plants, they’ll also be wearing them. Here are a few examples.

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A tillandsia lapel pin or brooch.

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Here comes the bride, all dressed in succulents!

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Even I’ve caught the bug and am wearing a tillandsia necklace. Photo: Jo Ellen Myers Sharp

Outstanding Displays

I could have presented 50 pictures here, but I cut it down to a few favorites.

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A wall of color-coordinated vandas certainly draws the eye at Silver Vase Orchids & Bromeliads.

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My thought is you really can’t have too many colors in a show display.

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I liked the “welcome to my house” look of this display

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A mind-boggling choice of orchids.

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The display by Bullis Bromeliads won first prize in its category.

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This huge display, by Plants in the City, was spectacular, showing a city street with the Brooklyn bridge in the background. I can only show part of it: it was always too crowded for me to take pictures.

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The display by Excelsa Gardens was an award-winner for its class.

Plants Worth Noting

Just a few of the superb plants I noted. Some of the will be making it to a garden center near you this spring!

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Exacum ‘Kandy’ has enormous flowers compared to the original Exacum affine, a some-what forgotten houseplant with paler flowers once sold under the name Persian violet.

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The Soiree series of Madagascar perwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) produces masses of much tinier flowers than any I have even seen.

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There were so many bromeliads, it was hard to choose a favorite, but I finally did: Neoregelia ‘Sunkiss’

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I’ve been seeing this Sansevieria ‘Fernwood’, with its very thin almost wispy leaves, in garden centers, but this is the first time I’ve seen it labelled.

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A dwarf zee zee plant: how cool is that? Zamioculcas zamiifolia ‘Zamicro’.

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This was my favorite foliage plant for color: Aglaonema ‘Sparkling Sarah’.

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Tillandsia ‘Samantha’: definitely a Best in Show in my eyes!

Julia Hofley, houseplant expert and fellow garden writer, and I checked notes and we both decided this plant, Tillandsia ‘Samantha’, was our favorite new plant. Well, guess what? So did the judges! It was accorded not just one, but two awards: Attendee’s Choice award and Most Unusual Plant.

Colorful Containers

This show offers lots of truly attractive containers… but using some of them is going to making gardening more difficult, as they rarely seem to have drainage holes. You might want to get out a drill if you buy one. Here are few of the more interesting ones.

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Very cute pots for a mini garden… I’m not sure how the plants will get enough light, though!

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Pineapple-shaped pots with a Tillandsia topping.

Lessons Learned

TPIE is a good place to go to learn how plants are treated in nurseries. Here are a few examples.

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Some plants (here Fittonia) are shipped simply as stem cuttings dropped into a plastic bag: who would have thought it was so easy!

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All those twisted, spiralled and braided Sansevieria cylindrica plants you see in stores are actually just leaf cuttings. Here is what they look like, freshly imported from Asia and dusted with a fungicide, before they are potted up.

Horrorculture

I’m sorry, but there are some horticultural practices I don’t approve of, notably when gardeners are being lead to buy by a product that is not what it is purported to be. I call that horrorculture rather than horticulture.

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Haworthias covered in paint: if you did this to puppies or chicks, you’d be arrested! It just makes me sick to see it!

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Cactus spray-painted to make them more saleable. Atrocious.

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These mosses aren’t mosses at all: they’re coloured dried reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) and quite dead. As long as you know they aren’t mosses, that’s fine. But beginning gardeners often ask me how often to water them, a sign that information is not getting out.

Just Weird

I’m not complaining: I like weird.

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A moss-filled flamingo topiary filled with pink polka dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya).

The Party’s Over!

There was a Happy Hour for all the exhibitors and guests after the show… but I was so burned out I returned to my hotel… to work on preparing this blog.

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