Amazingly, bulbs are popping up in Santa Rosa’s fire-ravaged gardens

Tillandsia plants are "air plants" that can grow without soil, have no roots and absorb moisture through their leaves.


James P. writes: My children gave me a tillandsia plant for Christmas. It came with directions but I would appreciate some additional information about this “odd” little plant. Thanks.

Tillandsia, commonly referred to as an air plant, is of the Bromeliaceae family. This “odd” plant is part of a genus of 650 species of evergreen flowering plants. There are familiar species such as epiphytes that can grow without soil while attached to other plants and there are aerophytes, air plants, that have no roots and can grow on shifting desert soil. Most species absorb moisture through their leaves and I suspect you have been given directions on how to care for your plant by misting it with water a few times a week.

Tillandsia is an amazing and diverse plant that can thrive in mountainous areas, deserts, in rain forests, in tropical regions of the world and in your case as a fascinating houseplant specimen. As gardeners, most have not tried growing them, but now as we learn more about tillandsia, how to care for them, ease in growing, their increasing popularity and availability; why not give them a try?

Here are some tips on growing tillandsia indoors successfully:

Maintain them by paying special attention to their needs such as light, water and air circulation.

Light requirements should be bright but filtered in April through October. Direct summer light will burn them. Direct sun exposure November through March is okay. They should be placed no further than 3 feet from a window.

Fresh moving air is always important.

Water, or thoroughly wet your tillandsia two-to-three times a week and perhaps less often if your house is kept cooler. If the plant has enough light and air circulation, they should be allowed to dry out within four hours after watering. Many directions recommend misting, and that method will have to be more often depending on how the air plant is displayed in your home and available humidity. Like any plant,

Pay attention to its environment and adjust its needs accordingly. A word of caution: if your air plant is growing inside an open glass container (shell), empty the water out after watering. Tillandsia will not survive in standing water.

Optimum indoor temperature should be 50 to 90 degrees.

Air plants are available for sale locally in nurseries such as Prickett’s, gift shops, specialty stores such as Urban Garden, Walmart and even online.

There is an abundance of information available from Tillandsia International ( that boasts to be the largest air plant grower in North America. It is our source for the basic information we shared. Due to the extent of this family however, genus and species, it is worth exploring in-depth if you’re interested.

Edward asks: I want to try freezing seeds as an experiment. What is the ideal temperature for collected seeds to continue to be viable for a long period of time?

The ideal temperature for maximum storage length should be no warmer than zero degrees. If you have a home freezer, check the lowest temperature to confirm it will maintain zero degrees.

An excellent source of free information is the International Seed Saving Institute.

Here are some basic tips for saving seeds successfully from one year to the next other than freezing.

Saved seeds are affected by changes in humidity and temperature. Eliminate this problem, by acquiring or saving glass containers with rubber gaskets that will ensure a tight seal for the saved seeds. The seeds can be stored in envelopes, labeled properly with the type and date of collection and then tucked and sealed in individual containers. Store the containers in a cool area that will not be subject to extreme heat. Some people use plastic film containers or discarded plastic vitamin bottles for seed storage. This method keeps the seeds free of insect and animal damage.

There is a book that was initially published in 1988 called The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel. This is an excellent resource that will give readers extensive information about growing plants from seed and much more.

Good news from Candace, a lover of iris, who lost her home during the October wildfires.

Many of her bearded iris have survived and are reappearing in her devastated garden. There is evidence from other fire victims from Fountain Grove that their paper-whites are returning with vigor.

Our local non-profit Santa Rosa Garden Club has introduced a project, led by District Director, Marybeth Hull, called, From Wildfires to Wildflowers. Also called Great Balls of Wildflowers. The seed balls, the size of large walnuts, are formed with compost, clay and specific Northern California wild flower seeds. These are packaged for distribution and include six balls with directions to plant or gently toss them in sunny locations devastated by our recent fire. Planted (tossed) seeds should bloom in spring brightening up scorched burn areas. For more information about the project, email

Dana Lozano and Gwen Kilchherr are Wine Country garden consultants. Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors, at The Garden Doctors can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at