Creating An Air Plant Display On Cholla Wood

I love tillandsias, commonly known as air plants or tillys, and have been using them in creative designs for years. A plant that grows without soil … what’s up with that?!

Various air plant creations graced my front porch when I lived in Santa Barbara. Growing them in that temperate climate just 7 blocks from the beach made it easy. I now live in the Sonoran Desert so it seems fitting that I would create an air plant display on cholla wood.

When in Rome after all – I used to collect driftwood on the beaches of California and now it’s desert wood in Arizona. Growing air plants here is a challenge so I decided it best to consolidate them and make the maintenance easier.

More on growing air plants in the desert coming up in a future post. I originally had them scattered here and there all growing outdoors in the shade. In November I piled them on a tray because they were starting to look a bit dried out.

This is no way to display air plants!

I was inspired by the Japanese art of kokedama to wrap the stems and roots of my air plants in moss. In my mind this will up the ante on the moisture factor when those hot summer days roll around. Time will tell if it’s effective at all but I think it looks good. In the very least, it’ll be easier to water and spray my tillandsia babies with them all in a row.

At my work table creating this air plant & cholla wood masterpiece:

This project is easy to do.  It’s just a matter of wrapping the air plants in moss and then laying out them out on the cholla wood in a manner that is visually appealing to you.  I was deciding on whether to use the vine wrapped wire or the gold aluminum wire but went with 1st option. For this project, I prefer the more natural look.

air plant display cholla wood

The ingredients:

An assortment of Air Plants.

4′ piece of Cholla Wood, collected by moi on 1 of my desert walks.

Spanish moss.

Vine wrapped wire.

Fishing line (or sewing thread will work fine too).

Scissors, wire cutters & needle nose pliers.

The steps are short & sweet:

1-Wet the moss to make it pliable.

2-Wrap the stem & roots of the Air Plants with the moss. Chris-cross tie the moss bundles (I can’t call them moss balls because they’re more like moss blobs!) with fishing line to secure.

air plant display cholla wood

2 smaller tillys wrapped in 1 bundle. 

air plant display cholla wood

All the bundles ready to go.

3- Attach the Air Plant bundles to the cholla wood using the vine wrapped wire.

air plant display cholla wood

The vine wrapped wire is thick so I find that needle nose pliers are great for securing it tightly & curly-cuing the ends.

I’m going to hang this living piece of art on a wall on my side patio. During these cooler months I spray or water my air plants once or twice a week. When it heats up here in Tucson I’ll need to water them every day – by that I mean wet the air plants and soak each bundle using my little watering can. I love how this piece looks, and to me, it’s well worth the effort.

Yes, air plants are fun to play with and can be used in so many ways. Kids find them fascinating and it’s a great way to introduce them to the world of horticulture. We love them so much that we aligned with a grower in the Santa Barbara area and sell their air plants. These epiphytic beauties come straight from the greenhouse to you. Don’t you want some air plants to create with too?!

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

If you love air plants, check out the posts below.

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  1. Hi Nell,
    I was wondering how your air plants have held up after being displayed with the moss around the roots? I don’t know how long ago this post was created, but I’m hoping long enough to know how the plants are doing. I’ve heard having moss around air plants can cause the plants to rot and i’m wondering if that has been an issue with yours at all.

  2. Hi Hannah – I live in the desert & I did this to try & keep my air plants a little moister. The moss drys out fast but it does seem to be helping a bit. In humid climates, wrapping the roots in moss would not be necessary. There is no rot because it’s very dry in Tucson. My air plants were very happy growing on the coast of Southern California but not so happy here! Nell

  3. Nell,

    Quick question from a budding (pun intended) plant enthusiast. I’ve gotten into succulents a lot recently after a trip to So Cal in February, but I’m now curious about these air plants. I live in central MN, aka the land of complete unpredictability (green grass one week ago, a foot of snow today). How do you think air plants would handle this state? I’d be looking at keeping them as indoor plants. Would it be a waste of time and money to try something like an air plant wall inside?



  4. Hi Ross – I moved from Santa Barbara, CA (7 blocks from the beach) to the Arizona desert almost 2 years ago. My air plants were much happier in SB! I’ve found that the ones with thicker, fatter leaves do better than the ones with fine leaves. Many people struggle with them as houseplants because the air in our homes is dry & they get their nutrients from the air. By the way, they do best in bright light but no direct sun. Light in the winter might be an issue. I’d try a few & see how they do over time because constructing your wall! Nell

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