Hanging plants without the hangers


Or the planters. Or the dirt. I’ve often seen tillandsia on tables at art fairs and home and garden shows without thinking much about them.  “Air Plants!” proclaim the  signs on the tables. “Freak plants!” I think, and dismiss the idea of owning organic matter that sits around on tables looking like little dried up octopi.

But then I saw an installation of these at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. They were hung on fishing line in rows looking like airy curtains, and I quite liked them.

In the meantime, the two Boston ferns currently taking up window space in  my back room seem unable to thrive. Other tropicals, tenders, and forced bulbs  in this space—colocasia, gardenia, hibiscus, hyacinths, and more—grow happily, but the two hanging plants have always faltered. Besides being a pain in the ass to water.

So, I thought, why not try these tillandsia on strings? We already have fishing line, and the plants are easily available at several garden centers in the area.

Alan Bigelow's deft hands tying up the plants
Alan Bigelow’s deft hands tying up the plants

It turned out that the hardest part was buying the things—they’re not quite as cheap as you might think. It was then simple to tie them along the fishing line, and they look quite distinctive backlit from the window. I can see I need more.

Anyone using these plants like this? Issues?

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Sorry – I could never bring myself to do that. They look far too much like gigantic spiders. I’d be forever smacking at the windows…..

    • They do look like spiders! I have a tarantula-size one hanging in a bathroom window that’s backlit by outside light; the first time my son saw the silhouette when visiting, he nearly jumped out of his skin! Great amusement. Mine is inserted into a tiny shell-shaped vase, hanging on a piece of decorative twine, so it looks like it’s growing out of a shell. I’ve actually seen them planted into nautilus or periwinkle shells too, it’s very pretty.

  2. I love tillandsia–they grow like weeds on trees in Brazil–but my apartment is neither warm enough or humid enough for them to survive. I keep my place at 60F during the winter. Not exactly tropical.

    Cold, dry, they die.

  3. I saw them at a botanical garden on Majorca–they had tied about 6-8 of the plants together with the leaves hanging down. After enough time the leaves grow out and around into the form of a sphere. There were about a dozen of these spheres hanging from an arbor over a patio. Took me a minute to figure out what they were, but it was quite beautiful. Mild winters on Majorca, but suspect they spend the winter in a greenhouse and during summers got splashed with a hose periodically. This arrangement is on my long list of fun hort things to do some day. Will look for the pics I took and send them along.

  4. I think they’ll look good once they’ve grown in a bit. Or, like you mention, if you add more. Personally, I’m not so fond of the “disorganization” factor of the string-hanging, with them all facing different directions, unless they’re all the same type (and smaller). The grassy one (T. juncea) seems odd to me just floating like that, given its dimensions, but if it were a solid “rope” of them it might have more continuity and purpose. Intrigued by the notion, I’ve gotta say. 🙂

  5. Tillandsia are amazing little bromeliads that are usually fairly easy to care for, here in Berkeley they usually need to be misted a couple times a week (less in winter, more in summer) and dunked in a bucket of water with a low strength fertilizer for ten or fifteen minutes once a month. In warmer, drier climates or houses with aggressive forced air heat… they might take more misting. But depending on your situation you can keep in mind that the grey and silver leaved plants will handle drier and cooler conditions than the brighter greener ones that are usually the more tropical ones. When we do long chains of them we will often use orchid bloom clamps (The silly butterfly or dragonfly tiny barrett like things that hold the bloom stock to a piece of bamboo for shipping) tied to the fishing line and then just clamp the Tillandsia in place. It makes it a lot easier to dunk or replace than if they are tied on. Try to source Tillandsia ionatha to use as the mass of the chain and use other types to fill it in since T. ionatha are cute quick growers and usually the least expensive available. (But please don’t buy wild collected!)

  6. I’m in Southern California and my tillandsias live outside glued onto a piece of driftwood. Once in awhile they treat me to a beautiful pink and purple flower to admire. They also look good in small hanging terrariums with a bit of moss. They are so common here don’t think they are at all odd.

  7. I think they’re cool. I have dabbled in tillandsias (even though Colorado is incredibly dry). My latest tiny plant resides in a clear glass Christmas ball hanging in a window–an experiment this winter when I just had to buy something living and green. I think they look better in a container (terrarium or pot–you don’t have to worry about soil or roots so many things will work–or hanging on something with a little more structure.

  8. Tillandsias do not like our indoor conditions. I have tried growing them in my kitchen and bathroom, but find they die after a month or two. They would really like much more humidity and will require regular watering. They thrive in a greenhouse with its higher humidity and open hose watering! It may be a cute idea for the short-run, but a bad idea for the long run

  9. Having never seen a plant naturally floating in the air with no visible support I’d like to see them displayed a little more realistically, attached to a dried vine or a piece of something. They probably would prefer to be positioned so that their ‘cups’ can hold water.

    You’ve seen Steve’s Rainforest Drops? They hang from invisible threads, too. The plants are supported by grapevine balls filled with moss fiber, which helps with the humidity need. I’m growing a bromeliad and Schlumbergera cuttings in a grapevine/moss sphere.

  10. Your counter looks like its covered by little drops of blood! Granite? Then they’re probably garnets. I actually like it. Unfortunately, not so much tillandsias. I tend to forget they are living and treat them like accordingly. Also, I’m death to hanging plants and yours are definitely hanging…

  11. I was introduced to Tillandsias when I joined the San Francisco Bromeliad Society several years ago.
    They are fascinating family of plants that come from a wide variety of growing conditions so if your indoor climate is cool and dry, try one of the varieties that comes from the dry mountain ranges where they can grow out of the cracks and crevices of rocks.
    Hap gave some great watering tips and for some other detailed information try the Rainforest flora web site :http://www.rainforestflora.com/care-tilly.php
    I like your creative fishing line design Elizabeth !
    I’ve been working tillandsias into woodland floral arrangements these days using lichen covered branches, small hollow pieces of wood, moss, twigs, pine cones… etc… combined with bromeliads, orchids and tillandsias.
    I find ’tillys’ great fun to style a tablescape with.

  12. I tried growing tillandsias in a bathroom years ago. Too cold, not bright enough, not enough humidity. I once again live in a cold, dark place that’s so dry, even with the heating duct closed, that I keep containers of water on the windowsills. Indoors, hanging from something, they’d die a slow death. But I recently got some more tillandsias and so far they’re happy living in a pot outdoors. Even with 40F nights, they’re doing better than the ones I had indoors.

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