If you haven’t already, you may want to read up on our basic guide on bromeliad terrariums. This will provide you a general overview of terminology, care, and other information about bromeliads. Our Tillandsia terrarium guide will be much easier to understand afterwards.
Tillandsia are some of the more popular epiphytic bromeliads and are also known as airplants. There are actually two types of Tillandsia and each require a different type of care. This guide will go over both. For this reason, I’m going to rank Tillandsia terrariums as both beginner and intermediate level terrariums. Though once properly identified and rooted these plants are rather low maintenance.
Identifying your Tillandsia: Mesic or Xeric
Depending on what kind of Tillandsia you have can result in a vastly different Tillandsia terrarium! Those in the mesic category prefer moist and humid conditions. Completely opposite of those in the xeric group that prefer good air flow and dry conditions.
Identification isn’t hard. Mesic ones are designed to capture as much water as possible. If you examine their rosettes, you should see that they would be capable of holding small amounts of water. This is compared to xeric Tillandsia which are characterized by hairs and/or scales covering their leaves which are designed to absorb water from the air.
If you have a xeric Tillandsia make sure you let the hairs dry out between waterings or you else the plant may suffocate. For this reason, xeric Tillandsia are much more prone to being overwatered than mesic ones.
Building your Tillandsia terrarium
Once you’ve identified which kind of Tillandsia you have you can determine the appropriate kind terrarium to use. If you have a mesic one, you’re probably going to want an enclosed Tillandsia terrarium or something you can cover with a lid. This will help maintain humidity and moisture. However, if you have a xeric Tillandsia, at best you can use an exposed terrarium. It may be better if you simply attached the plant to a substrate and placed that out in the open.
Both categories of Tillandsia will require mounting onto a substrate. Do NOT plant your Tillandsia in any form of soil or cover them with moss. The roots are meant for grasping not for absorbing nutrients. There are types of Tillandsia that are actually terrestrial but they will not be discussed here. Refer to our basic bromeliad guide which discusses how to plant terrestrial bromeliads such as Cryptanthus.
Almost any wooden substrate will do provided that it’s not treated as the chemicals or metals in the wood will poison your plant. Rocks also work but feel free to be creative and try a multitude of substrates. Just make sure that it can’t hold water or rot.
Attach the Tillandsia to your substrate of choice by either using wires to tie the roots to it or even using an adhesive. You’re going to want to use something that is waterproof as you don’t want the glue to wash away when you water the plant. Depending on the species of the Tillandsia yours may have a stolon. If so, you also have the option of stapling or nailing this directly onto your substrate.
Glass globes are popular Tillandsia terrariums these days. Remember that the larger the globe, the easier it will be for you to maneuver for not only placing and arranging your terrarium, but also for watering and maintenance. Tillandsia are also acceptable plants for use in reptile terrariums such as those for crested geckos or green iguanas.
Maintaining your Tillandsia terrarium
Misting your Tillandsia is preferred as it is easier to control how much water is given. Mist daily for mesic Tillandsia and 2-3 times a week for xeric. Remember that mesic want humid and moist environments while xeric need to air out between mistings. If you notice the leaves beginning to curl that means you are underwatering the plant. Distilled or rain water is best but if you need to use tap water let it sit for at least 24 hours to allow for the dissolved chemicals to dissipate.
Indirect sunlight is best but grow lights can also be used if desired. Room temperature (21ºC) works fine but you can deviate up to 5ºC in either direction and your Tillandsia terrarium will be ok. Just don’t let the temperature move into the extremes as this is something Tillandsias cannot tolerate.