15 Rare Air Plants To Add to Your Collection (With Images)

Air plants belong to the Bromeliad family (which also includes pineapples).

In a way, air plants resemble pineapple leaves that are having a “bad hair day,” – long, wiry, and a little out of control.

This isn’t to say there isn’t beauty and magic to air plants though – they are delicate looking, tolerant of neglect, and they don’t even require soil to grow!

They also flower once during their lifetime, and the rarest varieties come in many distinctive colors, shapes, and blooming styles.

Let’s take a look at 15 out-of-the-ordinary air plants.

1. Tillandsia tectorum ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’

All air plants feature tiny root hairs known as trichomes that help them absorb moisture, but this rare variety has these hairs in spades – so much so that its normally narrow, lime-green leaves appear larger and frost tipped.

This plant will lose its fuzzy looks if placed in too moist an environment.

  • Common Name: Fuzzy Wuzzy/Snow air plant
  • Average Price: $15-30
  • Average Size: 9-10 inches tall
  • Key Features: Long hairs; white, frost-like appearance

2. Tillandsia atroviridipetala var. yagulensis

This rare variety of T. atroviridipetala has thick, pale-green to whitish leaves that curve upwards in a stiff, spherical rosette.

It is more robust than the original species and tends to develop a caulescent growth habit (growing a stem visible above ground).

Yagulensis is also showier as a burst of hot pink flower bracts appears from the center upon reaching maturity.

  • Common Name: Little Green Mexicans
  • Average Price: $10-20
  • Average Size: 4-5 inches tall
  • Key Features: Spherical formation, semi-caulescent habit, vivid pink blooms

3. Tillandsia xerographica

A pale-green air plant with curling leaves - the Tillandsia xerographica.

The T. xerographica is a stunning, stemless plant with a mix of broad and slender ribbon-like gray-green leaves that unfurl and intertwine from the center like an unruly fountain.

The name translates from Greek meaning “dry writing,” which is apt as these parchment-like leaves will look their curly best with some water neglect.

It’ll also reward you with dainty lavender-colored blooms at maturity.

  • Common Name: Xerographic air plant
  • Average Price: $30-40
  • Average Size: 6-15 inches tall
  • Key Features: Broad and thin ribbon-like foliage, curled growth, purple blooms

4. Tillandsia bulbosa ‘Belize’

Tillandsia bulbosa ‘Belize’ in a man's palm.

With a bulbous base and long, twisting tentacle-style leaves, this Belize variety of the T. bulbosa plant almost resembles a creepy sea monster or Medusa’s head of snakes!

Its medium-green leaves are smooth and cylindrical tinged with a pinkish red on the inner sides. Upon blooming, the leaves will blush purple and send out slender violet flowers.

  • Common Name: Bulbosa Belize
  • Average Price: $15-40
  • Average Size: 8-10 inches tall
  • Key Features: Twisting, upward-reaching leaves; bulb base; violet blooms

5. Tillandsia seleriana

T. seleriana almost resembles an artichoke in shape as the foliage grows from a very bulbous base that is nearly the size of an adult hand.

The dark-green leaves grow in thick, cylindrical form from the base and curve into a point.

Both the base and bottom half of the leaves are covered in a light layer of fuzzy hairs that appear thicker and whiter near the bulb.

  • Common Name: Rhino Horn air plant
  • Average Price: $12-20
  • Average Size: 8-11 inches tall
  • Key Features: Curved horn-like leaves, fuzzy texture, bulbous base

6. Tillandsia piniformis

Unlike many air plants that tend to splay outward, this small, odd variety has many overlapping grass-like leaves densely packed together in a closed upward formation.

Combined with the grayish dark-green color of the leaves, this gives the plant the look of a pine cone.

The rounded, slender leaves are slightly fuzzy in texture and taper out to thin pin-like points at the tips.

  • Common Name: Piniformis air plant
  • Average Price: $40-50
  • Average Size: 4 inches tall
  • Key Features: Dense, pine cone-like formation; slender pin-prick tip leaves

7. Tillandsia ionantha ‘Rubra’

This tiny, attractive variety has smooth and elongated light-green leaves that spread out in an even and compact rosette shape.

The leaves remain green until it approaches the blooming stage, by which point the Rubra variety takes on the appearance of a lotus flower when its inner leaves turn from red to bright pink.

It then blooms forth with slim blueish purple flowers.

  • Common Name: Rubra Sky plant
  • Average Price: $8-10
  • Average Size: 4-5 inches tall
  • Key Features: Bright green to bright pink leaves, compact rosette form, blue/purple blooms

8. Tillandsia chapeuensis

Similar in appearance to T. xerographica, this air plant variety features slimmer ribbon-like leaves that curve outwards in a sparse spherical form as it matures.

The leaves of T. chapeuensis are very pale green and almost blueish due to a prominent layer of fuzzy hairs.

Its central leaves mature to develop thick flower bracts containing a cluster of short, bright pink flowers.

  • Common Name: Tillandsia chapeuensis
  • Average Price: $75-200
  • Average Size: 6-10 inches tall
  • Key Features: Slim ribbon-like foliage, recurving leaves, hot-pink flower clusters

9. Tillandsia bulbosa ‘Tiny Dancer’

Tillandsia bulbosa ‘Tiny Dancer’ air plant held up against a wood board.

This very rare cultivar of the T. bulbosa plant has smooth tentacle-like leaves similar to the ‘Belize’ variety, though these have a softer wavy shaping, a bit like seaweed dancing underwater.

The long, slender leaves are a gorgeous, rich, dark green growing thick from purple-tinged bases. Another factor in its rarity is the semi-caulescent growth habit.

  • Common Name: Bulbosa Tiny Dancer
  • Average Price: $250-260
  • Average Size: 4-7 inches tall
  • Key Features: Upright, wavy leaves; semi-caulescent habit

10. Tillandsia ‘Rothii’

The wide, flat leaves of this odd but eye-catching air plant recurve completely, forming a dense spherical mass.

Its smooth, strap-like leaves start a yellowy green shade before changing entirely to crimson red upon blooming (awesomely, ‘Rothii’ will turn red even without blooming in bright light!).

When ready, it sends up dramatic pink to yellow flowers on tall pink stems.

  • Common Name: Rothii air plant
  • Average Price: $30-60
  • Average Size: 8-10 inches tall
  • Key Features: Dense spherical form, red foliage, pink/yellow blooms

11. Tillandsia stricta ‘Cousin It’

Fans of The Addams Family will get why this is such an apt name for this T. stricta air plant.

This variety is a cute mess of emerald-green leaves that grow out in a dense curtain of foliage, much like Cousin Itt’s hair.

The leaves are flat and slightly glossy and recurve completely to give the plant its distinctive symmetrical, round shape that spreads up to 11 inches wide.

  • Common Name: Cousin It air plant
  • Average Price: $50-60
  • Average Size: 5-6 inches tall
  • Key Features: Dense leaves, symmetrical, rounded growth

12. Tillandsia tenuifolia

Named in 1753 by the Swedish Botanist Carl Linneaus, this beautifully delicate air plant was one of the first Tillandsia species to be described.

It resembles a teensy evergreen bush with its stiff and bright-green leaves that develop a graceful curve as they age.

Perfectly complementing the bright foliage are the bubblegum-pink flower bracts that arrive with maturity, producing tiny white bell-shaped blooms.

  • Common Name: Narrowleaf air plant
  • Average Price: $10-15
  • Average Size: 2-3 inches tall
  • Key Features: Miniature size, bright-green leaves, bright pink flower

13. Tillandsia ionantha ‘Albo-Marginata’

It’s the subtle leaf pattern that makes this cute little air plant such a find as very few have naturally occurring color variegation in their foliage.

The ‘Albo-Marginata’ features thick, succulent-like medium-green leaves with an upright, slight curving form.

On each leaf are vertical bands of white that sit parallel to the blades and become more prominent with age.

  • Common Name: Tillandsia ionantha v. albomarginata
  • Average Price: $40-60
  • Average Size: 1-2 inches tall
  • Key Features: Variegated white stripes, thick and fleshy foliage

14. Tillandsia copanensis

One of the larger air plant species, the T. copanensis can reach impressive heights whether mounted or potted once its blooms reach their full potential.

The thick, fuzzy, green leaves have a gorgeous silvery sheen to them and open out in a decorative rosette shape, though the main event is the pink flower stem that sends out large yellow bracts containing deep-violet, tubular flowers.

  • Common Name: Tillandsia copanensis
  • Average Price: $40-70
  • Average Size: 30 inches tall
  • Key Features: Silver-green foliage, colorful flower stem/bloom

15. Tillandsia hildae

The banded leaves of Tillandsia hildae.

Even larger still is the super rare T. hildae cultivar, which is only one of three other Tillandsias to feature a natural banding pattern on its leaves.

Each one of its large, rigid leaves fans out in an arched formation and can surpass 30 centimeters in length.

The leaves begin with a medium-green base before developing beautiful purple and brown horizontal bands with scaly white striping at the base.

  • Common Name: Hildae Tillandsia
  • Average Price: $80-100
  • Average Size: 1-2 meters tall
  • Key Features: Variegated striped foliage, tall leaves

Conclusion 

From 2-meter giants to cute shelf-décor sizes that fit in the palm of your hand, the above-mentioned air plants each have something to suit every home space and will reward you with wonderfully contrasting flower colors when you provide the right care.

Some of the more compact, flatter-lying varieties like Tillandsia ionantha ‘Rubra’ and Tillandsia xerographica would look awesome in a terrarium while messier styles like ‘Cousin It’ are ideal for hanging baskets.

However you imagine displaying your favorite, don’t wait too long to snap up one of these rare beauties!

Image credit: Frank Messina