It’s no secret that air plants have been getting a ton of attention in recent years. If you’ve been to a plant shop recently, you may have even noticed that air plants are being sold next to succulent plants.
Both air plants and succulents can add a beautiful pop of color to your homes and gardens, but what are the big differences between them?
Have you ever wondered if these two plants are from the same genus?
How similar are air plants and succulents, and what are their distinct differences?
This can all be a bit confusing, especially if you are new to keeping houseplants like air plants and succulents!
The good news is that this article breaks down the biggest similarities and differences between air plants vs succulents. After this quick read, you’ll be armed with the information you need to expand your garden with air plants, succulents, or both!
Table of Contents
What Are Air Plants?
Air plants, also known as Tillandsia, belong to the Bromeliad genus.
Air plants are epiphytic plants, meaning they do not grow in soil but latch on to surrounding plants and surfaces instead. In the wild, air plants grow on trees, rocks, deserts, rainforests, and even more abstract surfaces like bushes and cacti!
Tillandsia absorbs moisture in the air through their spindly leaves. Their small and delicate roots are not used to absorb water and nutrients like most plants. Instead, air plants use their roots to attach themselves to surrounding trees or objects – making them truly unique in this regard.
This means air plants grow without soil or another medium but in plain air!
Fun Fact About Air Plants: Air Plants use something called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) Photosynthesis to fix carbon for more efficient growth. This photosynthetic pathway opens the plant’s stomata at night instead of during the day, allowing the plant to conserve enough water and grow more efficiently.
Popular varieties of air plants include Tillandsia Maxima, Tillandsia Bulbosa, Tillandsia Xerographica, and Tillandsia Usneoides – also known as Spanish Moss.
Are Air Plants Succulents?
No, air plants are not succulents. While the two are somewhat similar, air plants and succulents belong to different plant families. Unlike succulents, air plants love water and require high-humidity environments to thrive. They also don’t need soil to grow like succulents do.
What Are Succulents?
Succulents describe a collection of multiple plant genera, over 25, to be exact!
Something that almost all succulent varieties have in common is that they have thick, fleshy leaves that act as a water reservoir. This water storage results from the plants adapting to their natural environments.
Most succulent varieties exist in dry climates with nutrient-poor, sandy soils. Storing moisture inside their foliage is a way of promoting self-preservation in harsh environments with little access to water.
Succulents can be different colors and have different growth patterns, shapes, and sizes, so there really is a succulent type suitable for everyone!
Fun Fact About Succulents: Succulents are more or less pest resistant, meaning the occurrences of pests are relatively low compared to other popular houseplants. While overwatering can certainly cause problems like rot in succulents, bugs will not be a primary concern.
Some well-known and popular succulent genera are Echeveria, Haworthia, and Agave.
Similarities Comparing Air Plants vs Succulents
Even though succulents and air plants are entirely different, a few aspects make them similar, so many plant parents mix these two plants up and create a visually stunning garden.
Low Water Requirements
If you often forget to water your indoor plants, you will find that air plants and succulents are a great choice to grow! These plants will thrive when given minimal water, as both plants store moisture inside their foliage, which allows them to go through periods of drought and heat without compromising growth and vigor.
Air plants are more demanding than succulents, though. Most succulent varieties can go for months without watering, while air plants require frequent and consistent moisture to prevent them from wilting.
Academic Study on Permanent Succulent Wilting Due to Water Loss:
In one study conducted by a team at the University of Craiova in Romania, researchers studied 20 common species of succulent plants and observed their response to water loss over a period of 16 weeks.
The goal of the study was to identify the amount of water loss that would cause permanent wilting damage to the plants.
Results from the study showed permanent wilting occurring at as low as 4.29% water loss for Senecio articulatum at 9 weeks without water and as high as 19.9% water loss for Delosperma pruinosum at 13 weeks without water.
The study showed water loss consistency for almost all plants on the list, with stomata density and cuticle thickness accounting for most of the consistency.
The Need For Bright Light
Succulents and air plants need a lot of light if you want them to flourish! Succulents can withstand more direct sunlight than air plants, as they are typically desert-dwelling plants. Air plants that grow in desert and mountainous areas are called xeric air plants.
Both succulents and air plants grow exceptionally well if you give them bright, indirect light!
Propagation With Offshoots
Something else that makes air plants and succulents similar is their easy methods of propagation. The plants produce baby versions of themselves at the base of the plant. These are called ‘offshoots’ or ‘pups.’
If your succulent has produced pups, you can easily propagate your succulent pups by taking sharp shears and removing the pup from the mother plant.
- Cut the pups as close to the soil as possible. A succulent baby will need to be propagated in soil, and an air plant will continue to grow in the air, just like the parent plant!
- Dry the cutting so that the cut point becomes a bit callused.
- For soil propagation, simply lay down the cutting on the soil and water the soil enough to remain moist and provide ambient humidity. You can do this with a watering can or spray bottle.
- I like to mix my own soil growing medium from one part coarse sand, one part perlite, and one part of good quality potting mix, but a standard commercial succulent potting soil blend will work too.
- Small roots should begin to grow, and after, you can gently plant the rooting end down in the soil and wait for further growth. New root growth should start to establish within a week or two!
Air Plants vs Succulents Differences
The most apparent difference between air plants and succulents is the way they grow.
Air plants do their name justice. They grow uniquely to this type of plant without any soil or growing medium! While succulents are terrestrial plants and need to bury their roots in the soil to attain moisture and nutrients, air plants can absorb these things from the surrounding air.
Air plants originate from tropical rain forests and other humid climates. This makes sense because if they live off moisture from the air, it better be full of it!
Tislandia naturally occur in Mexico, South America, and Central America, where they can be found attached to surrounding plants, rocks, or buildings!
Succulents come from very different environments, however. These drought-tolerant plants grow in arid environments with little water available in the soil and the air. They can grow in almost every part of the world, with every species having a different origin.
Due to the amount of water succulents can store in their curly leaves, they can grow in high temperatures and dry environments.
Looking at these two types of plants, you will see some distinct differences in their leaves.
Air plants have thin, long, and often curled green leaves (which are called tendrils). If you look closely, these leaves seem covered in a fuzzy-like substance. These ‘fuzz’ are microscopic hairs that the air plants use to absorb moisture and nutrients from the air around them!
Succulents, on the other hand, have smooth, thick, and fleshy leaves. These leaves act as a water reservoir, which the plants use to survive prolonged droughts and heat periods. Succulents are available in various colors and come in various shapes and sizes!
Even though the care needs of these plants have some similarities, they have specific needs that need to be met to keep the plants happy. Below, we will explain how to care for either plant!
How To Care For Air Plants
If you are new to air plants, you may think these unique plants are tricky to care for. But you will be surprised at how low-maintenance, and fuss-free caring for air plants can be throughout their life cycle!
Once you learn what these plants need, keeping these tropical plants happy is a piece of cake.
Air Plant Watering
Because air plants do not grow in soil, you may wonder how to water them! The best method to do it is by giving them a water bath. Place the plant inside a deep dish filled with water and allow it to soak moisture up for about 10 to 20 minutes.
After watering, shake off the excess moisture and let the plant dry by placing it on a paper towel. Letting the plant dry after watering is vital because the foliage should never remain wet!
Wet leaves can cause rot and lead to fungal or bacterial infections.
You must water your air plant once every 7 to 10 days. However, the frequency of your watering schedule will depend on the environment you keep your plant in! The drier and warmer the air, the more frequently your air plants need watering.
Please note that it’s best to use rain water to water your air plants. Tap water is often enriched with minerals such as fluoride, which can cause harm to your air plants over time.
Light for Air Plants
Keep your air plants happy by providing plenty of bright, indirect sunlight. Three to five feet away from a west, south, or east-facing window will work well!
Be careful not to put these plants in direct sunlight. Their delicate leaves will get burned quickly.
Air Plant Environment
In their natural habitat in the Southern United States and Mexico, Tillandsia grows in moist and warm tropical climates.
If you want to ensure your air plant remains healthy and lush, it’s best to place it in humid conditions to mimic its natural environment closely.
If the air around your plant is too dry, it will need much more maintenance and watering!
If you give your air plants lots of humidity, you should also ensure good air circulation. Frequently open windows to keep your room ventilated and allow fresh air in.
Highly humid environments may quickly lead to fungal growth and infections if the area is not properly aerated.
How To Care For Succulents
Caring for indoor succulents is an easy task. These house plants don’t need much water, so you can forget about them for weeks, and they will still be okay! This makes them some of the most easy care plants you can find.
Keeping these beautiful plants healthy is all about giving them the right amount of water and light.
Give your succulents a good soak when the soil has gotten completely dry.
Always check the soil by poking your finger deep beneath the soil surface to ensure that it is dry. Your succulent leaves will start to wrinkle when thirsty, or your succulent leaves may turn brown, which is a great way to indicate when to water your plant.
When watering, try to keep the leaves of the plant dry. The plant is much more prone to rot and disease if the leaves are moist.
Don’t be afraid to water your succulents thoroughly. Overwatering is done by watering too frequently, not the amount of water you give your plants.
Water deeply until it runs freely from the drainage holes, then empty the saucer underneath the pot. Only giving a small amount of water at a time can lead to shallow root growth and underwatering issues.
Light for Succulents
Giving your succulents enough light is crucial in keeping them healthy.
Most varieties can tolerate direct sunlight, but allowing the plant to acclimate to the direct sun slowly is essential. Otherwise, the leaves may get scorched!
If your succulent is growing leggy, losing leaves, or stopped growing entirely, you are likely keeping it in too low light conditions!
Put your succulents directly in a south or west-facing window to ensure that they receive all the light they can get.
Best Succulent Soil
Planting your succulents in suitable soil is the key to keeping them healthy.
These plants do not like wet feet, so using soil with good drainage and aeration is crucial. Any succulent- or cactus-specific soil mixture will work well!
Planting your succulents in pots with drainage holes in the bottom is important! These holes allow excess water to drain from the pot. Without them, all the water remains in the pot, meaning that your plant’s roots get exposed to water for long periods.
Excess water can quickly lead to overwatering issues and root rot. If you think you are experiencing overwatering issues, check out our article on how to save overwatered succulents!
Creative Ways to Display Air Plants And Succulents
Even though different needs are required based on the type of succulent and type of air plant you are growing, you can easily combine them creatively in your home!
Below are our favorite ways to put these ornamental plants on display.
Glass globes or terrariums are a stylish way to display air plants and succulents. Often you will see arrangements premade and sold in plant shops everywhere, but creating a succulent terrarium at home can be a fun project that won’t take much effort.
All you need is your glass globe or terrarium, plants, a soil medium (for your succulents), and decorative pieces. You can play around with positioning your plants and adding pebbles, moss, and twigs to create your own succulent terrarium!
Remember that the humidity inside will be relatively high if you’re using a closed or sealed glass vessel. High humidity is beneficial for your air plants, but it can harm your succulents!
Be mindful of the kinds of plants you put inside your glass globe. Succulents like a Sedum or Jade Plant can tolerate high humidity better than plants like Aloe Vera or Cacti. For more information on this subject, check out our article on how to choose the best succulents to pair together!
Hanging your plants vertically is the best way to display air plants and succulents together. Just be sure to use a lightweight, well-draining medium like coco coir if you plant to hang things around your home or apartment.
Use potted succulents, such as small Echeverias or String Of Pearls, and hang them vertically using a piece of rope. The best thing about air plants is that they can grow anywhere!
You can attach them to the rope, lay them in the pots, or tie them in between the potted succulents with a fishing line so that it looks like the air plants are floating around your succulents!
Combine different colors of plants to create an interesting visual in your home!
Air plant species that make a good example for hanging gardens are Spanish moss or the colorful Sky Plants (Tillandsia Ionantha).
Air Plants vs Succulents FAQ
Are Air Plants Easier To Care For Than Succulents?
No, they are not! Some will even argue that air plants require more maintenance than succulents! However, both are considered relatively easy-care plants. Air plants and succulents make great beginner plants, as they require little attention and can tolerate neglect to a certain extent.
Can You Mix Air Plants With Succulents?
Yes, you can easily combine these two plants! But it is important to remember that they have different care requirements, so when you mix air plants and succulents, ensure that both plants receive all the care they need so that they will thrive and flourish!