During our recent trip to Central California, my souvenirs were mostly living ones. Having planted my succulents in a no-longer-used fountain and seen how they thrived and flourished, I was eager to get more. We stopped at a few places that I might come back to later… but what this post is really about is the air plant obsession that began at Succulence in San Francisco.
I was disappointed in Succulence, actually. My husband drove us across San Francisco to get to it, and if you have driven in San Francisco, then you know that between the traffic and parking problems, that can kind of suck. So, I was really hoping for something to make it worth it once we got to our destination, and I have to say that in terms of the store itself, it really wasn’t. I knew it was located at the back of a video store – fine, space is at a premium in San Francisco; I get that, and really, it’s a fun and quirky location. But the plants and the store failed to live up to the hype I’d seen in the reviews. It was small and really just the back patio; but again, that doesn’t concern me so long as what’s in that little area is something to justify the hassle of getting there. But a small patio filled with plants that are all unlabeled and unpriced, and some of them looking quite poorly – this was not at all what I expected. The owner was on vacation, and the only employees there to help were the girls manning the video store counter, one of whom knew a little about the plants and pricing and kind of fudged the rest. I ended up with three “hospital” plants, which were plants that the owner had vaguely deemed “in trouble” and so were half-price. I also bought one healthy aeonium, which I’d learned about after having seen some spectacular specimens on Alcatraz Island and which I was dying to try to grow at home.
As I was leaving, these little ferny guys by the door caught my eye. I asked about them, remembering that one of the reviews of this place had mentioned “air plants,” or tillandsias. And so another plant obsession began. Once home, in the process of trying to identify my new little plant, I found several online sellers of tillandsias… link led to link, and I wound up at the astounding Rainforest Flora, which has unusual tillandsias like nobody’s business (some are quite expensive, too, depending on their rarity and size).
Tillandsias require soaking overnight every other week if kept indoors, and watering as needed depending on your climate if outdoors. You just spray them off, and you’re done watering. They like bright, indirect light and do not require soil or any type of potting medium. Because of this, they are exceedingly versatile, at least while small: you can hang them from trees if you like (which I plan to try with a couple of mine), or glue them to driftwood, or put them in a terrarium, or just leave them sitting on their own. I identified my San Francisco souvenir as an ioantha, which turns out to be the most common variety to be sold as a “trinket.”
Between what I bought and the five that were added to my orders free of charge by Rainforest Flora, I now have twelve of these guys. Of the twelve, this whimsically shaped duratii is my favorite.
I wasn’t very interested in this variety until I saw an example of a thirty-year-old duratii in this blog post, and it was so magnificent and beautifully strange that I really, really wanted one. I knew I’d have a long wait before it reaches that size, but even in small proportions it is such an interesting plant.
Once it arrived, I decided to put it on my breakfast table on top of the existing square vase of corks. Later that day, I found a fork that had been left (probably by me) in a large jar of jalapeños in the fridge for so long that it had actually begun to corrode the fork’s handle. I scrubbed it clean and was about to toss it, when I thought it might be fun to put it in the duratii. Like spaghetti!
Then my husband said he could curl the tines with some needlenose pliers. He only curled the outside tines so that it would still be recognizable as a fork. Add a curve to the handle, and it looks like it belongs there.
Since these pictures were taken, the fork has fallen enough times that, in order to avoid distressing the plant, I’ve put it under the duratii rather than having it partially supported by it. The fork is less obvious this way, but I still think it’s neat as a sort of “surprise” for those of our visiting friends and family who take a closer look at it. You’ll also note that one of the upper leaves is now curled – thanks to one of our cats, Sofie, who decided to have a nibble while we were away this past weekend and thus unable to scold her for being on the table. It looks like she didn’t care for the taste, as she just bit but didn’t tear off, but I’ve been soaking a couple of cotton balls in white vinegar at night and putting them near (but not touching) the plant anyway, in hopes that it will be a safe cat deterrent. She gave another of the tillandsias a good trim while we were gone, so I am glad that these are nontoxic plants!