Are Air Plants Succulents?

Are Air Plants Succulents

Are you a first-time plant collector and still finding your way amidst the terminologies and plant names? You are not alone! Most plant enthusiasts go through the same struggle. Take, for instance, air plants and succulents. Most people tend to get confused and mix up these two plant species. 

Are air plants succulents?

No, air plants are different from succulents. The former is a specific type of plant that has spiky leaves while the latter are plants with puffy or juicy parts. Air plants absorb their nutrients from the air and by spray watering, while succulents rely on the soil for their food and existence. 

Read on and get to know more about air plants and succulents.

What are air plants?

Air plants are known by the scientific name Tillandsia and referred to as tropical Epiphytes, which means they do not need soil to thrive. They grow in the trees and anchor their small roots to the branches.

These plants have nearly 650 species and they get their nutrition from the air, rainwater nutrients and decomposed matter like leaves and dead insects.

Air plants can grow as tall as seven feet while some species are only half an inch in length. Those belong to the bromeliad kind, a group of monocot flowering plants that include pineapples. They thrive best in mounted pieces of wood or glass containers. They can also be attached to rocks and other surfaces with the use of liquid nails. 

Air plants like bright and indirect sunlight and a mist of rain or distilled water at least twice a week. These plants can be soaked in clean water for at least an hour once a week, but do not use chlorinated or softened water. Their favored habitats include cliffs, beams, brushwoods, housewalls and electric wires.  

Common types of air plants

These are the common types of air plants:

  • T ionantha: It is the most popular among the air plant species and is known for its vibrant silver leaves and purple flowers. This plant turns into a gorgeous red color before producing any offsets. 
  • T cyanea: This is a unique plant, as it can grow in the soil through the air. It is also called the pink quill plant and it has pink or purple bracts, grows to just about a foot long and has pointed needle leaves.
  • T aeranthos bergen: Also called mad puppers and are considered a low-maintenance air plant with blue and pink flowers, along with prickly patterns.  
  • T tectorum: This air plant is quite pricey compared to other species and is a popular choice as decoration for patios and sunrooms. It has hairy trichomes on its leaves and resembles the shape of a snowball.

What are succulents?

Succulents are plants with thickened, fleshy and engorged parts to retain water in arid weather conditions.  They are easy to care for and require little maintenance to survive indoors if properly potted. There are more or less 10,000 succulent species worldwide and these soil-based plants can thrive in a pod or a garden, which makes them more versatile compared to air plants. 

Common succulent species

These are the common succulent species around the world:

  • Aloe plants: These are succulents with spiky leaves. Some of the most beautiful aloe plants include the Aloe Black Beauty, Aloe Doran Black, Aloe Crosby’s Prolific and Aloe Helskloof Bells. 
  • Aeonium: These are succulents with spoon-shaped leaves and multiple colors. They can grow red, yellow, pink or white flowers, especially during warm weather.
  • Jade plant: Also called the money plant. It looks like a small tree with small egg-shaped leaves and woody branches. 

How to grow air plants and succulents?

Air plants 

Air plants grow above the ground or on the branches of plants. If you intend to grow it in a house setting make sure that you soak it in water for half an hour at least once a week.  Suspend it upside down to allow the crown to dry completely. Mount the plant where you want it to grow after a day or so. 

You can place air plants on interior pillars, inside a glass bowl, or on threads hanging from the ceiling. See to it that the plant receives enough sunlight, moisture and moderate temperature. Do not place your air plants in a sealed container or unventilated area. 


Choose a porous and well-draining pot if you intend to propagate succulents. Fill the pot with slightly acidic soil–preferably garden soil. You can also mix your soil by combining a portion of grit, coarse sand and two portions of compost. Position the pot on a windowsill in the southern side of your home. 

Succulents can withstand droughts since they can store water in their leaves, but some factors can affect said ability. This could include their species, the season and the place where they are planted. Those with thinner and less fleshy leaves retain less water, so they must be watered if there is a prolonged drought season.

Pot-planted and newly planted succulents need to be watered regularly and during the summer season, they should be watered more often. Place the plants in direct sunlight for about five hours a day to develop healthy green leaves. 


Air plants and succulents are often mixed up by some plant enthusiasts but they are not the same.  Air plants absorb nutrients from the air and do not need soil to survive. Meanwhile, succulents are soil-based plants that have thickened and fleshy parts. They are low-maintenance plants and can withstand periods with minimal water because they can store water in their leaves and stems. 

Image: / Karin de Mamiel

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