Tillandsia: The Allure of Air Plants for Floral Design


Tillandsia: The Allure of Air Plants for Floral Design,
written by Rizaniño “Riz” Reyes of RHR Horticulture

Air plants or Tillandsia in floral design are becoming very popular for many good reasons. This article will discuss the many fine qualities of air plants and what makes them so valuable and worth having in the shop or studio, an explanation of their native habitats and understanding how they grow in the wild, a sampling of some of the most common and most popular species for design work, and just a few basic mechanics so you can quickly begin using them.

The fact that the Tillandsia is a living plant requiring no soil makes it a novelty item that continually mesmerizes anyone who sees them. In the retail setting, they’re a product that (when cared for properly) can sit happily in a shop at room temperature and last much longer than any bucket of cut stems in a cooler. And because they require no soil, ones creativity is seemingly endless simply tucking them in every nook and cranny in your home, shop, studio and even in your next bride’s wedding bouquet!


To truly master how to use Tillandsia in floral design, you have to have an idea of how air plants grow naturally in the wild. If a trip to the mountains and rainforests of Central and South America isn’t quite within your budget, there are plenty of images online that can help. Pay attention to the growth habit and the natural direction each leaf tip is turning towards. Look at the other elements that exist close by or next to the plant and see if any sort of interaction is taking place and note the position in which it is growing. Then keep an eye out for the variation and seasonality of color some species take on, especially during bloom; it’s all these subtle nuances that dictate how they can be integrated into our work.

In nature, they have fine roots that simply cling to a surface: whether it’s a rock on a cliff or the bark of a tree, these roots will cling on for support without harming the host. Tillandsia capture almost all of their water and nutrients from the air. To replicate this in the studio, there are two basic artificial methods in which Tillandsia will attach to an object: Glue and wire.
Small rosettes of Tillandsia are easily glued in place on a branch using a hot glue gun or a flora adhesive. To give a more natural appearance once set in place, the addition of bark, lichen or moss around the point of connection is an easy and effective way of making it look as if that branch was cut with the air plant already growing on it. Large plants are best wired in place and the gauge of wire will depend on the size of the plant and how heavy. Wire is carefully looped just above the 1st or 2nd row of leaves from the base to conceal it as much as possible and then taped to a slim stake for use in arrangements or bouquets or wired onto a branch, post, or wreath.




The foliage itself, when used individually, is very useful and effective in floral design. Carefully removed from the plant and a wired wood pick attached to the base adds an elegant texture, line and an overall sophistication to a composition that’s not commonly seen.

Tillandsias have really come a long way from little spiky air-plants hot glue-gunned on a piece of seashell attached to a refrigerator magnet. You’d rarely see them available and if you did, the selection was poor and just a few years ago, no one really knew what to do with them. Their alien-like forms, spiky leaves and mythical names made them intriguing, but also intimidating at the same time. They were “collector’s plants”, right up there with orchids before you found them at Home Depot and Trader Joes, and their cultural requirements seemed impossible to follow for the general consumer. But now, thanks to designers and stylists such as Susie Nadler at Flora Grubb in San Francisco, and a growing interest in longer lasting, textural arrangements that can continue to live and grow, air plants (along with the ever popular succulents) seemed to be made for one another being key elements in wild and rustic designs and if utilized correctly, they can also evoke romance, boldness, delicacy, and whimsy.


Now it’s time to explore some of the more common species popular amongst designers. Now, you shouldn’t limit yourself to just these few species as there’s so many to select from including numerous hybrids between the species.
Tillandsia ionantha – the most common and readily available and are small 1”-3” plants. Some have a wonderful red coloration during bloom.

Tillandsia xerographica – the largest and most popular for floral work due to its sheer size ranging from 4” seedlings to monsterous rosettes over 12” across. The individual leaves are also highly sought after.

Tillandsia brachyocaulos – 3-6” across a glossy medium green often turning red, wonderful line and curvature that’s fairly uniform and gives somewhat of a pinwheel effect.

Tillandsia stricta – Green foliage with hints of silver trichomes and a fat pink inflorescence when in bloom with pale violet flowers.

Tillandsia seleriana – Somehwhat odd and bulbous, but creates a bold and in daring statement by itself or as a single leaf that suggests a type of animal claw or horn.

Tillandsia caput-medusae – as the same suggests, it’s a bulbous species with twisting grey green foliage that resemble the mythical creature.

Tillandsia concolor – very elegant and almost a slim, but stiffer form of T. xerographica, but with the occasional seasonal color.

Tillandsia tectorum – The fluffiest and funnest of all the species resembling a airy snowball.

Tillandsia capitata – a parent of many many hybrids known to take on striking colors especially when its on the verge of blooming.

Tillandsia butzii – Almost a baby, dark green form of T. caput-medusae. It’s very slender with clean wavy lines and a smooth texture.

Tillandsia harrisii – similar in form to T. brachyocaulos, but more densely tomentose (hairy) with a grey, white silver powder effect.

Tillandsia streptophylla – Highly unusual, exceedingly curly foliage making for a most unusual textural element

Tillandsia juncea – Very long, upright foliage with a very find, grass-like texture.


Growers of Tillandsias are beginning to see the growing trend of air plants in floral work, but are disgusted at the fact that most will treat them like cut flowers and toss them in the compost after everything else fades and wilts in the bouquet. Here are some basic tips to keep them going:

To care for air plants, follow these easy steps:

1. Keep the plants as is or mount them on a structure such as a branch, a glass globe, or just lay them on top of a potted plant.

2. Take the entire plant and dunk them in luke-warm warm water every week or two weeks.

3. Give them bright indirect light inside the house where temperatures stay around 60F and above with good air circulation. They can go outside (but in the shade) in the summer.

The best place in the home for most Tillandsia is really by the kitchen sink with a bright window. The humidity from doing dishes by hand really helps.


Tillandsias on permanent structures such as holiday wreaths* and mossy branches can remain in place but the plants should be soaked with lukewarm water every week or two depending on the humidity of your space. Make sure water does not collect in the center of the plant. Shake off the excess.

*While best used indoors in cold climates, wreaths with air plants on them can be placed on your front door outside during the holiday season if you live in a mild winter climate. However, they must be protected by bringing them inside at night and also when temperatures dip below 50F. Being tropical plants, there’s some risk involved as some species are more sensitive to cold temperatures than others.

Online Sources for Plants (some offering wholesale quantities):

Tillandsia International (airplant.com) – Coarsegold, CA
Owen’s Gardens (360-794-6422) – Monroe, WA
Tropiflora (tropiflora.com)- Sarasota, FL
Rainforest Flora (rainforestflora.com) – Torrance, CA



Fleur Friday

Sebesta Designs

Sebesta Design

The Designers behind the Flowers

Krista Jon Designers at Work

Krista Jon Designers at Work

Amy Keating of The Flower House

Amy Keating of The Flower House

Dresses made of Flowers

Flower Dress of Purple Vanda Orchids

Designer Unknown

Dress made of flowers

 Ariel Ermatinger  Dress of Flowers for Bouquets to Art

Ariel Ermatinger

Joseph Massie Flower Dress

We’ve featured Joseph Massie’s Red Rose petal dress in the past and just had to include it again in today’s Flower Dress Post!



In less then 3 months World Floral Expo will open its doors at LACC, the Los Angeles Convention Center, for its next edition after a successful show last year in Chicago. The trade show already has a total of 104 exhibiting companies at this moment and the projected 150 national and international participating companies is still the expected final number, according to the organizers. Although international flower growers are the biggest component of the trade show exhibitors, the number of US (Californian) participating growers and traders is growing fast and is already touching 25.

“It is not more than logical that the Californian flower industry has a trade show of its own where growers and buyers meet, like in every other important flower producing nation. Actually I am surprised that there was no specialised international cut flower trade show until now in a state where so many flowers are being produced. I am glad that we had the chance to team up with CalFlowers, the Californian Flower Growers & Shippers Association, which for sure will contribute to a much higher participation of Californian, as well as other US states, based flower growers ”. For this purpose a large area has been set apart in the exhibit hall, which will be allocated especially to US floral companies. I see it as a challenge, but also as my job to develop a trade show especially created for the US cut flower industry”.

The number of pre registered flower buyers is higher then ever. Until now almost 250 specialised buyers signed up already to attend, while traditionally most registrations take place after Valentines. “There is a sense of enthousiasm and excitement that California is getting its own international flower trade fair ”. “That, together with having most of the US flower growers in its backyard, will certainly increase the success factor of the show”, concludes Dick van Raamsdonk, spokesman of the fair.

Register here

Flirty Fleurs Workshops

clematis and lilac bouquet The Bridal Bouquet & Pricing Workshop
Saturday, January 24, 2015 / 10am to 1pm
The Bridal Bouquet & Pricing Workshop is a hands-on workshop where you will learn how to design lush hand-tied bouquets. After we design a beautiful bridal bouquet we will have a discussion and learning session about pricing our designs. All instruction and fresh flowers are included, please bring your own tools.

Location: 5628 Airport Way South #240, Seattle, WA 98108
Investment: $250.00 per person
Register Here

Bella Fiori, Wristlet Corsage of a garden rose and piers japonica

A Hands-On Boutonniere & Corsage Design Workshop
Saturday, January 31, 2015 / 10am to 1pm
Would you like to learn more about designing Corsages & Boutonnieres? Then join us for this 3 hour hands-on class where we will focus on wiring and gluing techniques!! We will practice wiring a variety of flowers and use various finishing techniques on boutonnieres. Corsages – we will work on Pin-ons and Wristlet corsages for a variety of looks.

Location: 5628 Airport Way South #240, Seattle, WA 98108
Investment: $150.00 per person (this class is normally $200, it is on sale for the month of January!)
Register Here

Bella Fiori, Pink and Peach Floral Design in Silver Compote

The Compote Floral Arrangement Workshop
Saturday, February 7, 2015 / 10am to 1pm
In this class we’ll discuss how to design a lush, garden style flower arrangement in a compote vessel using chicken wire as the support structure. After the discussion each student will create their own floral arrangement masterpiece using a gorgeous variety of flowers.

Location: 5628 Airport Way South #240, Seattle, WA 98108
Investment: $250.00 per person
Register Here

Bella Fiori, flower crown

A Hands-On Flower Crown Workshop
Saturday, February 21, 2015 / 10am to 12pm
Flower Halos and Hair Pieces are all the rage right now! In this hands-on design class we’ll review ways to construct flower halos with a variety of fresh, seasonal flowers. All instruction, fresh flowers and hard goods are included, please bring your own clippers.

Location: 5628 Airport Way South #240, Seattle, WA 98108
Investment: $150.00 per person (this class is normally $200, it is on sale for the month of February!)
Register Here
Hands-On Two Day Wedding Workshop
Saturday, February 28 & Sunday, March 1, 2015 / 10am to 5pm
Two full days filled with flowers, designing and discussions! In this hands-on workshop we will have design sessions where we will create bridal bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, and centerpieces. In addition to design work we will also discuss the business side of booking weddings – including reviewing how to conduct a consultation, how to write a wedding estimate, and details of contracts. We will also discuss websites, blogs and social media. Hand-outs for the business side of the workshop will be included.

Location: 5628 Airport Way South #240, Seattle, WA 98108
Investment: $500.00 per person
Register Here


Additional Spring 2015 Floral Design Classes are currently being planned.
I will be scheduling a Chuppah & Arch Design Class for either May or June – stay tuned for the date announcement.

If you have a special request please do email and let me know!

{ Questions? Send Alicia an Email }


Christmas Vacation …

Hello dear flower friends,
Well it’s that time of year, time for my two week holiday blogging break. I am taking an extra day this year, hope you don’t mind! I’ll be back here blogging on January 5th.
I will keep sharing pretty pictures & other floral industry news on our facebook page during my blogging break, so be sure to pop by there to get your flower fill!!
Also, I am working on the spring schedule for floral design classes – will be posting those classes soon.

And if you are looking for a treat for yourself or another flower friend — order a copy of our first magazine here
floral design magazine

Amaryllis Inspirations

White Amaryllis Centerpiece

Southern Living - Amaryllis Setting

Red Amaryllis Table Setting

Red and White Amaryllis

Peach Amaryllis

Ken Marten - Amaryllis

Ken Marten

Amaryllis setting on a mantle

Amaryllis Arrangement

Flirty Fleurs Magazine, cont…

Hi Flower Friends,
Yesterday was a big day for Flirty Fleurs with the announcement of our Special Edition Magazine, so big that I feel the magazine garners another post!

Thank you to everyone who ordered the magazine – I am so excited for you to receive your copy and I’m sure you’ll love reading it cover-to-cover and get ready to see jaw-dropping gorgeous flower arrangements!
Thank you to everyone who sent me emails, text messages, Facebook messages, called, left comments on the blog, left comments on Facebook & Instagram – You all made my day :) .. such a reminder of why I do what I do, and why I love the floral community so much!

Thank you to the team that made this magazine what it is – Robyn, Kim & I worked very hard on this project, producing a print magazine definitely comes with a learning curve! Many of you know Robyn as the designer behind Bare Root Flora in Denver, luckily for us she has a background in editorial work! Kim’s work as a graphic artist is often seen here on Flirty Fleurs and quite a few of you have worked with her on branding for your own floral businesses. Kim came on board with this project as the Art Director creating beautiful editorial layouts. thank you, thank you, thank you to these two lovely ladies!

For clarification, the magazine is available for purchase through MagCloud. All orders are placed with them and they use Print-On-Demand technology to print up your copy when your order is received, they then ship the magazine directly to you. The finished magazine is lovely as MagCloud does use a high-quality paper! Also, MagCloud offers a digital version of the magazine which is a nice option.

If you’d like to order a copy – click here!

Flirty Fleurs Screenshot of Magazine Cover

Introducing – Flirty Fleurs Magazine

Flirty Fleurs Magazine

For the love of flowers, and for the love of floral designers, that’s the ‘why’ behind this special magazine edition of Flirty Fleurs!

For the past four and a half years we have delighted in curating a wide variety of topics of interest and importance to the floral industry on the Flirty Fleurs blog. And it thrills me beyond belief to bring you a magazine brimming with gorgeous floral designs and interviews chock full of advice from leading floral designers around the world.

On these pages you’ll learn how to create a flower crown, be inspired with a selection of sensational bridal bouquets, discover the power of the #FarmerFlorist movement, learn why teaching classes can be great for your business, and take a trip to the London gem that is Neill Strain Floral Couture. Save room for the feast for the eyes that is the amaryllis-inspired styled shoot by the one and only Nancy Teasley of Oak and the Owl. And since rose studies are one of Flirty Fleurs’ signature features, we’ve brought you the best yet—a study of David Austin garden roses, plus much more!!

The purpose of Flirty Fleurs has always been to encourage and inspire floral designers, and I hope what you find on these pages does just that for you. You and your love of flowers is why I love what I do.


Flirty Fleurs Magazine is Available in a Print Edition and an Online Version – visit HERE to order your copy!