Thriving on nothing but thin air

People need money and food but some plants need nothing

I have a request to politicians of all stripes who are under the mistaken impression that average British Columbians have magic wallets and purses that mysteriously replenish whenever the money gets a bit scarce: stop taxing us to death.

I recently took a few minutes to calculate all the increases for 2013 and 2014 and was shocked by what I found: B.C. Hydro going up by nine per cent (average of $96 a year);  Fortis B.C. natural gas delivery rate up by 0.5 per cent average of $32 a year); our ‘free’ medical or MSP payments going up by 3.9 per cent for families (about $54 a year); ICBC basic coverage increasing by 4.9 per cent (average of $36 a year); Maple Ridge property taxes and services increasing by 3.75 per cent; Port Mann Bridge toll increasing by 100 per cent, or $1.50 each way: B.C. transit two per cent increase for our ‘token’ bus service; and let’s not forget the 17-cent subsidy we pay on every litre of gas, let alone the weekly 10-cent-a-litre weekend price fluctuation that the gas companies like to spring on us.

These increases may seem small by themselves, but what they really amount to is nickel and diming us to death – and I haven’t even touched on the increased cost of putting food on the table (up 16.1 per cent from 2008-2012).

Thankfully, Mother Nature is no politician and does not expect us to live on thin air, but she has created a few plants which seem to do just that.

Tillandsia, or air plants are bromeliads that generally live as epiphytes on trees and rocks in the wild, although there are a few terrestrial species. They absorb both nutrients and moisture through their leaves and are not required to be potted in soil – which makes them rather handy for decorating indoors.

Tillandsia are found in the southern U.S., West Indies, Central to South America and I remember seeing beautiful wild specimens in Key West, Florida and the jungles of Belize and Guatemala.

While air plants have been available for quite some time, they seem to be enjoying a bit of a revival lately, with collectors seeking out the rarer species and nurseries finding new ways of displaying them.

By way of example, this past Christmas there were clear glass ornaments with tillandsia inside to decorate the tree with, as well as indoor wreath arrangements.

Small ornamental trees of clustered air plants and even vertical plaques accented with moss, bark and tillandsia are also available and ready to hang on the wall or sit on your side table.

Air plants are relatively easy to take care of and only require bright or filtered natural light, a light misting or watering (some prefer to submerge or wet the plant to run-off) three times a week (unless your home is very humid) and an average temperature of about 70 F (50-90 is the usual range).

Despite the fact that they appear to thrive on nothing but thin air, you can fertilize once a month using a very dilute water-soluble fertilizer (mix at only 25 per cent of the recommended rate, provided it has no copper trace elements (which are toxic to bromeliads).

While fertilization is not required, it will help to bring your tillandsia into bloom, and they have beautiful red, pink and purple flowers, depending on the species.

If I had my way, every city council chamber and B.C. government office would have a display of Tillandsia – just to remind our politicians that there are indeed a few things in life that can thrive on little else but hot air.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (