hydric mesic xeric air plant tillandsia

What are Hydric, Mesic and Xeric Air Plants?

Understanding Your Plant’s Native Climate 

air plant tillandsia
Before learning about how to care for your air plant, it's important to know where they come from. Understanding your plant’s native climate is the first step in knowing what kind of care it needs! Just like you might be uncomfortable in a climate you aren’t used to, a plant that comes from a warm climate might not thrive in cold and dry conditions and vice versa. A clue that helps us understand what kind of climate a plant will thrive in is the names ecologists created for referencing the amount of rainfall each plant needs. The names for the climate designations used to classify air plants, or Tillandsia, are hydric, mesic and xeric. 

Hydric Air Plants

Hydric climates are wet. They receive a good amount of rainfall and are characterized by dense leaf canopies that provide shade. The Amazon River Delta or the windward side of the Big Island of Hawaii are good Hydric climates to think of for reference. Because of this climate, hydric air plants typically grow in water or close to it. It is important to note that most air plants sold in the retail market don’t originate from a hydric climate! Your air plant is more likely a mesic or xeric plant. 

Mesic Air Plants 

air plant tillandsia
Similar to hydric climates, mesic climateappreciate moistue. However, in comparison, mesic air plants prefer less rainfall than hydric air plants do. One place that might come to mind when thinking of mesic climates are Latin American Jungles with frequent bursts of rain and leafy canopy. Storms pass through mesic zones, leaving them with rainy and wet seasons. Here, plants are frequently watered but are able to dry out again. Sometimes, their main form of water intake may be heavy mist or fog rolling off the edge of a mountain range. Air plants that originate from this climate appreciate frequent waterings, followed by a nice breeze to completely dry again. Many air plants available for homes are considered mesic tillandsia.

So, is your air plant mesic? One way to tell is if your plant has shiny and waxy leaves without as many trichomes as xeric air plants that come from dryer areas. Some species of air plants that can be classified as mesic are Abdita Multiflora, Bulbosa Belize, Bulbosa Guatemala, and Butzii. Mesic plants are used to mixed light and won’t want to be introduced to direct sunlight. Humid climates are the ideal place for these air plants, so misting your plant during the week is a good practice to keep them healthy!

Xeric Air Plants 

air plant tillandsia xerographica
Xeric climates are dry and often prone to drought. Southern California is an example of an arid xeric climate. The temperatures in areas such as these are more extreme than mesic areas. Xeric air plants often have more leaves and come with more noticeable trichomes, or the white hairs that can be seen on many air plants. These trichomes are meant to catch dust or moisture from the air to be absorbed into the plant. Trichomes are necessary for plants in xeric climates to ensure the plant is fed and hydrated. Xeric climates will be brightly lit, so the air plants that originate here are more hardy. New plant owners might find these forgiving plants to be a good starting point!

Some species of xeric air plants are Xerographica (which have long mint-colored leaves), Circinata, and Harrisii. The light coloring of these plants is due to their evolutionary need to reflect light in the hotter conditions they come from. Ionantha are a popular xeric species that require a bit more attention than the average air plant. Their small size makes them prone to dehydration. 

Which Plant is Best For You?

Most people have success caring for mesic and xeric air plants, but understanding the climate yours comes from is a great step in caring for them. Different species of air plants need different amounts of water and light, and this can be an interesting and exciting part of owning air plants. For the most part, caring for air plants is easy and stress-free. The choice between air plant species just comes down to your unique interests and preferences. 

If you’d like to learn more about caring for your air plant, read more on our care blog.

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