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?
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
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!
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.
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.
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!