I dislike clutter. I’ve never collected anything: not salt shakers, beer steins, baseball caps, or stamps.
A thing should have a purpose or resemble art if it’s to sit around the house doing nothing.
But now I find myself in the grip of an obsession.
It started small. At Fred Meyer’s, on a small shelf near the fresh flowers, is a jar filled with a dozen two inch plants jammed together and their tentacle arms intertwined.
If I hadn’t asked the clerk what they were, I would be a free woman today.
“They are air plants,” she replied.
“They don’t look too healthy,” I said, “I think they’re past their expiration date!”
“If you take them home and wet them down they’re supposed to be ok. I’ve never done it, but they’re not supposed to need anything but air and water to come back to life.”
My curiosity was piqued. I gave her two dollars and took two tiny, brown plants home. That whim five years ago turned out to be the first step on a downhill (but exhilarating) slide toward toward my addiction.
I watched those first two little plants turn green and come to life with regular water spritzes and bright light. They grew slowly. After a year, one displayed a lovely purple, red and blue orchid-like blossom.
Occasionally, I would pick up another little plant, one that looked entirely different than those already decorating our home. My head swims to think there are more than 450 different air plant species.
Air plants (Tillandsia) are usually found rudely jammed into a jar as they were at Fred Meyer, or in a forgotten, easily overlooked corner of a gift or flower shop. They grow naturally in south and central America and require no soil, just light and water. The roots, grown only for anchoring, can be cut off.
People display air plants in decorative containers, hanging on walls and from ceilings. I enjoy my plants simply sitting on my coffee tables. Today, they sit on nearly every available flat surface.
Air plants take in nutrients and water through their leaves, so they respond well to just being spritzed a couple of times weekly. But they really love a good soak, their favorite treat. At first I soaked my plants in the kitchen sink. Soon my collection graduated to a large bucket. Then I used two buckets. Now, much to my daughter Laura’s amusement, I soak them in the bathtub with a little Miracle Gro thrown in for good measure.
I’ve made a little ritual of caring for my air plants which makes me feel less like an eccentric collector and more like I’m tending to something important. I do like to fuss over things, just ask my kids.
After I’ve soaked my plants in the tub for a couple of hours on Wednesday mornings, I take them out and dry them upside down. Drying upside down means water drains from the base of the plant to prevent rot on the plant and water stains on my furniture. After a few hours of drying, I rearrange them throughout the house. That’s the fun part.
This spring, I’ll share pictures of some blossoms.
Recently, I found a piece of Spanish Moss in a newly purchased plant. Spanish Moss may be the only air plant that grows naturally in the Southeast U.S. I’m babying that tiny piece of Spanish Moss, hoping it grows. Good thing I have high ceilings in the living room!
My daughter, Laura, is endlessly amused at my air plant fixation. She would want me to mention how often I pick them up, examine them, rearrange them, and whisper encouragement to them. It’s all true, even I’m surprised at how attached I’ve become.
That jar of “dead” Tillandsia still sits on the counter at Fred Meyer. Take a look, if you dare.