Tillandsia Towers: Introducing Our New Acrylic Habitat for Air Plants

For the past year, we’ve been keeping a big secret. It involves air plants, acrylic and Ryan Benoit Design.

Believe us, it’s been tough to contain the excitement! And tough not to post any photos as we were testing this prototype design. But now the moment is here. The big reveal…must be revealed. We present to you…

The new modern air plant habitats that Ryan has designed and built. Check it out:

Acrylic-Tillandsia-Tower-Ryan-Benoit-Design-RMB_1664-2

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

After years of spotty results, our air plants are now thriving thanks to the ’tillandsia tower’ we installed almost a year ago. They’ve been flowering enthusiastically, and several are now ‘pupping,’ or producing offspring. We’ve also added some larger plants to our collection.

We started designing these towers last year, when we were having mixed luck keeping our tillies thriving. Tillandsias favor bright filtered light and lots of circulation — the kind you would find in their natural habitats supported by tree branches and other structures. (You might remember they’re epiphytic, relying on other plants for physical support in a non-parasitic way and pulling their nutrients from the air, rather than the soil.) These towers — tall, lean, made of light-diffusing translucent white acrylic — have given these kooky plants a new healthy home. In the photo above, you’ll see how they’ve thrived in the last 10 months.

Truly, they’ve been happy as clams. Flowering like mad, “pupping” out offspring, swelling in size and color intensity.

The air plants perch on acrylic rods at multiple levels. Watering by spray bottle is a cinch because the design allows you to put the plants side by side. (Plus, the rods serve as drying racks.) Removable shades slot into the roof to diffuse direct sunlight from the front or sides when needed. It’s also a vertical garden you can hang or mount to a wall — inside or out. We see this design working well on balconies and in colder climates where it can be moved indoors near a window in winter months.

It took several sessions on the laser cutter at Maker Place to get the acrylic pieces to fit together perfectly, but in the end it was a success. We made six of these habitats — some of which are destined for lucky friends come holiday time — with more on the way. Who knows? We might even sell some!

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

We used a laser cutter to cut the acrylic walls of our new air plant habitat.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Our Tillansia stricta just went into bloom for the first time since January.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

A burly Tillandsia brachycaulos takes in the view from the top.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

We spray down the air plants in place twice a week.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

This tower has six levels. Ryan also made three-, four- and five-level towers.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

We are hanging the tower from an east-facing eave which only receives direct sun in the mornings.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Got air plants and wondering about care? Here are some air plant (aka tillandsia) care basics that we’ve learned by trial and error and from the experts:

Air plants prefer living outdoors (in the wild, they often grow against tree branches and other structures), where air circulation is plentiful and light is bright and filtered. But you can definitely make an indoor habitat work. Read on for details…

Outdoors:

– Keep air plants in bright filtered light. Build this DIY air plant cage and mount under a tree for best results.

– Avoid direct mid-afternoon sun. Morning or late afternoon direct sun are okay.

– The sunnier or drier the climate, the more you’ll need to water.

– Thoroughly spray at least once a week, in the morning.  We make sure the foliage is fully wet when spraying. It’s been about year since we fully immersed our tillandsias in water — instead we spray or hose them down 1-2 times a week.

– Use pond, filtered, reverse-osmosis, or tap water as a last resort… just not distilled water, which lacks important nutrients. We normally use a spray bottle filled with pond water or sometimes just a hose (although chlorides in tap water are not ideal).

– Fertilize 1-2 times a month by adding 1/4-strength liquid fertilizer to your spray bottle.  We use pond water in our spray bottle regularly in lieu of adding fertilizer.

Indoors (more difficult):

– Fully soak plants 30-60 minutes once a week and allow to dry more or less completely before returning them to their habitat. Keep flowers above water when soaking.

– Place near windows, but not in direct sun.

– We don’t recommend growing in glass orbs, which lack air circulation. The plants can be overwatered very easily if placed back in the globes while still wet.

– Fertilize once a month with an organic balanced fertilizer at 25% strength in a spray bottle.

We normally keep our air plants outside and will bring them inside for coffee table placement when we’re entertaining. We’ve also noticed that our tillies tend to thrive in numbers in our garden. Maybe that’s because it’s easier to water them in groups, or maybe because they just like the sky-high company.

—TH

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Shown here is the removeable shade installed to diffuse direct sun when needed especially for south- and west-facing installations.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

Shades are removable.

Acrylic Tillandsia Tower - Ryan Benoit Design

  • Natalie N

    nice work!

  • Lisa Harper

    Now this is awesome! Patience, passion, persistence and playful, all tossed with the usual creative engineering, we’ve come to expect from the two of you. I think a ’tillie-coming-out’ party is in order…I’m sure you are working on the perfect tillie-icious cocktails right now :). Well done!

    • Lisa, thank you! You’re absolutely right — some tillie-inspired tipples are certainly in order.

  • Tommy Ogren

    Oh, what a fun idea this is!