Airplants are the common name of a variety of epiphytic species within the Tillandsia genus. Tillandsias are members of the pineapple family, also known as the bromeliad family. Airplants get their common name from their epiphytic habit – they grow on trees without soil. They receive all their water and nutrients through fuzzy gray scales on their leaves called trichomes. In nature, nutrients are provided by decaying organic matter like leaves or insects. The visible, wire-like roots are only used for anchoring themselves to the limbs and trunks of trees.

Florida has several native species of Tillandsia, which includes Spanish moss, but most of the commercially sold plants are native to Central & South America. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Tillandsia likes bright light, but not direct sunlight which can burn their leaves. A bright window in the house or a shaded patio are ideal spots for your plants. If temperatures drop below 45, be sure to bring your Tillandsia indoors, as they dislike cold weather and will die if exposed to frost.

To water, soak the plant once or twice a week, or use a spray/mist bottle to thoroughly wet it. Watering with rainwater or filtered water is best. After watering, shake out the excess so that no standing water remains in the center. Let plants dry in a well-ventilated place so they don't remain wet. Water more frequently in air conditioning, and hot weather, and less frequently in cool, cloudy weather. Also, when "planting" them, avoid tucking them into moss that stays damp, which may cause them to rot.

You can fertilize airplants once a month with a diluted water-soluble orchid or tillandsia fertilizer, following package instructions for dilution. We recommend diluted fish & seaweed emulsion, which can be applied with the misting or dunking methods. Not properly diluting your fertilizer, or fertilizing too often can kill your plant. If your plant is very dry, soak it first, then fertilize it the next day.

How to Encourage the Little Things that Run the World in Your Yard and Garden

Insects and other invertebrates like spiders, centipedes, and earthworms provide invaluable ecosystem services for free. Some decompose dead plants and animals, thus insuring the recycling of nutrients. Others pollinate. Some clean up dung and others provide soil aeration. All are a major part of the food web of nature.

For example, bees and other pollinators are essential to the reproduction of most flowering plants, including many vegetables, fruits, and nuts. I like to watch bumble bees visiting our tomato blossoms and southeastern blueberry bees pollinating our blueberry bushes. When wildflowers like ironweed, salt and pepper bush, calico aster, and purple coneflower are in bloom, bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies, and pollinating flies actively work the flowers for nectar and pollen in our butterfly garden.

Spicebush swallowtail on purple coneflower. Photo by Janeen Langley.

Spicebush swallowtail on purple coneflower. Photo by Janeen Langley.

Native ants aerate the soil. Bessie beetles are active in the decay process and can often be found in rotting logs in shady areas. Dung beetles are fun to watch as they make a ball of animal poop to roll away to their homes. If you are lucky enough to have a pond or creek nearby, dragonflies will grace your yard. They are fierce predators. In their larval form, dragonflies eat copious amounts of mosquito larvae.

It is very important to set aside large acreages of parkland to serve as reservoirs for invertebrate diversity. In Florida, we have a conservation and recreation lands acquisition program called the Florida Forever that acts as a blueprint for conserving our precious natural resources. Florida Forever and other similar programs protect thousands of acres of habitat and can preserve natural ecosystems for generations.

However, since farmland and urban and suburban areas make up roughly 95% of our land use, it is just as important for citizens to make changes in the way we manage our yards and local parks. What we do in our own yards can make a big difference locally to our invertebrate populations. Here are three things you can do.

Spicebush caterpillar on sassafras. Photo by Donna Legare.

Spicebush caterpillar on sassafras. Photo by Donna Legare.

First, increase the percentage of native plants in your yard. Native plants have unique ecological relationships with native insects. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reports that 96% of songbirds rear their young on insects, most of which are feeding on native plants. Attract pollinators by planting wildflowers. You can extend the season by including carefully chosen non-native flowers that extend the blooming season such as pentas, African blue basil, salvias, Mexican sunflower, and many others. Herbs like Greek oregano and rosemary are also good.

Secondly, give up pesticides or at least be super selective in how you use them. Control weeds by mowing or weed whacking with a string trimmer periodically rather than relying on herbicides. Hand weeding is good exercise!

Lastly, improve habitat. Woodland beds should have a forest floor of leaves and pine straw, as well as some areas of exposed soil for nesting non-aggressive solitary ground bees. Rotting logs and downed twigs and brush provide habitat for invertebrates. If you have a tree removed, consider leaving a small snag that will rot over time. Create brush piles here and there. Small piles can be tucked neatly under shrubbery.

A bee on a purple coneflower. Photo by Donna Legare.

I once discovered an overwintering bumble bee in an old flycatcher nest inside a large gourd. When I clean out my bluebird nest box, I place the old nest at the edge of a woodland bed on the ground. These are sometimes used by bumble bees. Areas of weak lawn, especially in the sun, may be used by non-aggressive miner bees which are usually seen in late winter or early spring in our area.

Why bother? A yard rich in invertebrates will be rich in birds and other wildlife. For me, it is very satisfying to see butterflies, moths, caterpillars, beetles, solitary wasps and bees, honey bees, bumble bees, pollinating flies, doodlebugs (ant lions), native ants, jumping spiders, crab spiders, golden silk spiders, centipedes, and all sorts of invertebrates that I cannot begin to identify in our yard. We have worked the last 27 years to increase the biodiversity of this small city lot that surrounds our home. I would encourage everyone reading this to take a more relaxed attitude about the neatness of your yard and make room for invertebrates!

Garden to Table: Lemon Scented Herbs for Tea and More


Lemon Balm

Lemon balm has an intense lemony scent, but the flavor is surprising sweeter than the scent leads you to expect. Well draining soil in a pot with part sun should keep your lemon balm growing well. Frequent harvesting will result in bushier plants. The little white flowers are very popular with bees. Lemon balm leaves are often used to flavor and decorate sorbets. They are also a nice accent with fruits and vegetable dishes.

Lemon Verbena

Of all the lemon scented herbs, lemon verbena has one of the truest lemon scents. Lemon verbena prefers full sun and well draining soil. It has a somewhat messy growth habit, but frequent harvesting will keep the plant in shape. The leaves are used for teas and to season poultry, seafood and vegetable dishes and even dessert.

Lemon Grass

Lemon grass is the lemon scented herb that gives so many Thai dishes their distinct flavor. Lemon grass is a tender perennial with bulbous stems and lemon scented leaves. Lemon grass is very drought resistant, once established, and thrives in full sun. It is a bright colored ornamental grass, growing about 3-4' in height. It can be grown in containers, but does much better when directly planted in the ground.


Sweet Lemon Mint

Makes a wonderful herb in teas, sauces, syrups or add fresh leaves to potatoes, fruit salads, soups and stuffings. Plant in full sun or light shade or sun; prefers well-drained, compost-rich soil. Best to grow in large pots— like most mints, if planted in the ground it can become invasive.


Sweet Lemon Mint & Lemon Verbena Tea


1/2 cup of fresh sweet lemon mint leaves rinsed, lightly packed (about 20 leaves)

1/2 cup of fresh lemon verbena leaves, rinsed, lightly packed (about 10-15 leaves)

2 cups of water


Heat water: Bring a pot of fresh water almost, but not quite to a boil.

Pour over mint and lemon verbena in tea pot: Put the mint and verbena leaves in a teapot. Pour the hot water over the leaves. Let sit for 3-5 minutes. Strain into tea cups.

For a cold brew do not heat water. Steep leaves in water in the refrigerator for 8 hours.