Copper is Toxic
Tillandsia air plants are known as a plant species that are low-maintenance and, for most, quite hard to kill. However, without proper love and care, they can and do die. In short, air plants require a couple hours daily of indirect light and weekly soaking or misting with water. For complete hydration, we recommend a 30 minute soaking in a bowl of lukewarm water followed by a thirty minutes drying period to avoid rot. Following this methodology, water your air plants every week to 10 days. For more detailed care instructions check out Air Plant Supply Co’s care page.
Once you have the basics of air plant care down, it is important to consider other environmental factors that may be harmful to your plants. Recently, copper has become a home decor trend. Curled copper wires to hold or stand-up your air plants or glass terrariums faceted with copper, although beautiful, could be harmful if they are indeed made out of pure ‘Cu’. This may be controversial because copper is a favored way to display air plants, but copper is toxic to nearly all plants! I get it, the natural green of air plants paired with the contrast of copper is a winning combination, but it is non-negotiable–keep air plants away from copper!
We see copper used with air plants all the time, but before you panic, there is a silver lining (get it?)–some plant accessories may not be made from real copper. There is a chance you have copper-dipped or copper-coated accessories which essentially mean they are painted to look like copper but not real copper, so they will not harm your plants.
How can you tell if it’s real or fake?
Firstly, was the item expensive or inexpensive? Copper is a rather costly metal. It is fair to assume that cheap items are not real copper. Secondly, what does it look like? Look at your item in bright light–real copper should have a reddish-brown hue, like a penny. Real copper will also tarnish and patina with time as it oxidizes. Is the item slowly turning a bit green? Is there fuzzy, flaky residue on the surface that can be chipped away with your fingernail? Likewise, real copper can be polished, removing the patina, to show the vibrant orange color again. Something that is coated with a copper-colored paint will not tarnish, oxidize, or be able to be polished. If you are using a wire to make plant air plant stands, notice what a cross-section of the wire looks like--is it copper-colored throughout, or is the interior silver or black? The latter would mean you have a wire that is dipped to look like copper, but it not.
A final way to test would be by sound. What does the accessory sound like when you tap with another metal item like a spoon? Copper is a soft metal so it should give a muted sound. Something that gives off a higher-pitched sound is likely not copper. Further, if it feels and sounds like plastic then it’s probably plastic which means you’re in the clear!
Why is copper bad for air plants?
Copper wire or accessories can be toxic to air plants, especially when the copper is repeatedly exposed to moisture, which increases the coppers reactivity with the environment. The oxidation of the soft metal halts the uptake of nutrients and creates deficiencies for plants. Signs of copper toxicity in your plants may include iron chlorosis–yellow leaves with green veins–or burned tips on the leaves. Even slow growth and dark stubby roots may indicate that your air plants are being poisoned by copper. Since air plants only absorb nutrients through their leaves, they are particularly susceptible to copper toxicity.
What if I am in love with my copper air plant holder?
The real challenge is correctly attributing these symptoms to real copper because they could be unhappy from a lot of other elements. Our suggestion is to either simply keep your plants away from copper looking things all together or, if you love the look of copper, seal the copper with a clear coating like Flex Clear before using it with your air plants. Problem solved!