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The Tillandsia ionantha or, as it is commonly named the Air plant or for this article – Fuego, is one of the most unusual and beautiful houseplants you want to get for your home.
It has colorful leaves that are green on the bottom and pinkish or violet on the top.
Fuego can be found across Latin America and one variety also grows only in Mexico.
Even though this plant is native to hot weather, we’ll show you in this article how to grow it in your own home.
A lot of people get it for their indoor garden because supposedly it can filter the air in your home.
So enough chit-chat and let’s get down to business.
How to Grow Tillandsia Ionantha
What sets apart the Fuego from other common household plants is that it doesn’t use soil to grow.
It can grow on top of other plants as well, such as trees or even cacti, however, it is also found on top of rocks.
What you will need for your Fuegois warm temperature and lots of humidity.
You’ll have to spray the succulent leaves with water every day or get a humidifier and place it near the plant.
If you live in a cold environment, it is recommended that you keep your Fuego in an indoor grow room if you have one or place it in the hottest spot of your house and keep the temperature above 59 °F (15 °C).
One thing we should mention as well is that most Air plants need lots of water and Tillandsia Ionantha is no exception.
So now that you have a basic idea of how to grow Fuego, let’s go over all the steps and a little more info.
Different Types of Tillandsia Ionantha
Many people mix all the Tillandsia species and think that it’s all the same but that can’t be further from the truth.
Tillandsia Ionantha is from the Bromeliaceae family but is the part of the Tillandsia genus.
Specifically, Tillandsia Ionantha has two varieties:
- The Ionathia variation – meaning that it has violet flowers in Latin
- The stricta variation – native mostly to Oaxaca in Mexico
The two are quite similar but the Tillandsia Ionantha has those distinctive violet flowers and is a bit larger.
And the Tillandsia Ionantha is also the most popular for indoor planting so we will stick with this variety as they both have similar needs in terms of growth and care.
Watering your Fuego is one of the most essential parts of caring for this wonderful plant because it’s also the hardest.
First, let’s talk about the type of water you should use for your Tillandsia Ionantha.
Don’t use filtered or distilled water because these types of water are either oversaturated with salt or have too much chlorine.
You can, however, use tap water, bottled water, and even pond or fish water because all of them contain minerals which your Fuego will surely be thankful for.
When Should You Water Your Tillandsia Ionantha?
Now, the hardest part of the whole watering process is maintaining the moisture levels in the soil and the air.
Because there’s no soil involved, you can even place it in your sink.
You should put your Fuego in a water bath for 10-15 minutes every 2 to 3 days and leave it to dry in a hot and dry environment but don’t soak the soil entirely because the roots are susceptible to rotting.
You should also do frequent misting of the leaves with a spray bottle or by using a humidifier and do it every 2 to 4 days depending on the temperature and humidity.
Of course, if you’re planning to keep your Fuego outside and you live in a hot and humid environment you can just slightly water it once or twice per week.
Light and Temperature Requirements
Light exposure is something you have to take great care of when growing a Fuego and the general rule of thumb is that you place your plant somewhere warm but with indirect sunlight.
You still want to give your plant at least 2 to 3 hours of direct sunlight but you have to make sure that there’s enough moisture in the air so that it doesn’t wilt.
Even though the Fuego grows in a hot climate, there is still the danger of sunlight burning the leaves so that being said you shouldn’t keep your Fuego near a window because the glass can heat up.
As far as temperature is concerned, you want to keep it between 59°F (15°C) and 80°F (27 °C) however, you want to balance out the heat and moisture ratio as much as possible.
The Fuego can tolerate mild frost, however, but you do want to bring it inside when the temperatures start to fall.
As we already mentioned, this wonderful plant can grow almost anywhere you plant it but don’t even try planting it in soil.
Because Fuego is a type of epiphyte, the plant uses its roots to attach itself to anything it touches.
It can even grow on your other plants and it won’t damage it because it doesn’t act as a parasite.
A lot of people just place their Fuego on rock plates or under a glass bell and take them out when they need to water them.
However, if you want to make a sort of a terrarium for your Tillandsia Ionantha, you can use some moss and sand to add some texture.
Although most Air plants don’t need fertilization, if you want to go out of your way to give your plant some extra nutrients, it’s not a bad idea at all.
If you do opt to fertilize your Fuego, you should use a water-soluble fertilizer made specifically for Tillandsias.
You should fertilize it once a month during the season and not at all during winter.
My advice is to use the misting technique when fertilizing meaning that you don’t want to use too much fertilizer and moisture to do so.
Once you’re done with fertilizing, let your Fuegodry as you would when watering it.
Pruning is an essential part of caring for Tillandsia Ionantha.
Even the most careful of gardeners will experience some browning on the leaves of their Air plants and this isn’t something you should be worried about.
Air plants are highly regenerative and Tillandsia Ionantha is no exception.
Just use some small sheers or even office scissors to trim off the brown part of the leaves and then water your Fuego and put it to rest somewhere with a lot of light.
You’ll see that in a couple of weeks the leaves will start to grow back and be even healthier than before.
Although you can grow your Fuego from seed, you’ll have to wait at least 2 years for it to grow to a reasonable size.
That’s why many Air plant lovers opt for propagating it from the division of pups or offsets.
If you want to propagate a new Fuego from an already existing, the tools you need for this task include:
- Small garden sheers
- Small pliers
- Craft wire
- A corkboard or a piece of wood
The first step is to remove your Tillandsia Ionantha from its stand and use small pliers to gently detach the roots from the material they’ve clanged on to.
Then, you want to place it in a container filled with water for at least 2 hours.
Once that’s done, you want to take out your Fuego and place it on a flat surface so you can start operating.
Gently divide the leaves and the roots with your fingers or pliers to see if there are any loose pups you can use.
If there aren’t any, then use small sheers to cut the pups at the base and immediately put them in a bowl of water.
Then use some craft wire to hold the pups together and place them on a mounting board (cork or wood works the best).
You should mist your pups every day until they start to grow to a decent size in a few months.
As far as repotting is concerned, Fuego doesn’t need to be repotted because it doesn’t need soil.
However, if you want to remove your Fuego from its place, you should use small pliers to detach the roots and carefully place it on its new stand.
Generally, you can do this as often as you like as long as you’re careful not to damage the roots but you can also keep it on one stand or even other plants.
Tillandsia Ionantha Problems and Solutions
Every gardener who has experience with Fuego knows that they can be a handful at times.
Let’s see what are the most common Fuego-related problems and their solutions.
One of the biggest problems with Fuego care is giving it too much or too little water.
If you over-water your Fuego by keeping it in its water bath for too long, it will start to rot.
On the other hand, if you under-water it, the leaves will start to curl and go brown, or even start to fall off which might lead to irreversible damage.
The best solution is to be careful how much time your Fuego spends in the water.
So 10-15 minutes is the most optimal bath time.
Another common issue you might face with your Fuego is fertilizer burns.
Fertilizer burns are caused by strong chemicals in the fertilizer.
The best solution is not to fertilize your Fuego at all, but if you still want to do it, then use a very mild fertilizer and test it out on a small part of the plant.
If even that causes fertilizer burns, you should stop fertilizing it immediately.
Too Little Light
As it was already mentioned, Fuego doesn’t need direct sunlight to be able to thrive and prefers indirect light instead.
However, your Fuego can wilt away quite quickly if you don’t provide at least 6 hours of light daily.
Even office lighting is better than no lighting at all and as long as you don’t expose it to too much direct sunlight you’re free to use as much artificial lighting as you want.
Never expose your Fuego to cold conditions.
We’ve already discussed the optimal temperature and explained that Fuego plants can withstand light frost.
But when the temperature starts to drop under 59°F (15°C), you need to take your Fuego inside and put it somewhere warm because its delicate leaves will start to develop frost-burns.
It’s always better to avoid the problem than to treat it later.
How Much Time Does Fuego Need To Grow?
Like most Air plants, your Fuego will grow about an inch in the first two years if you grow it from seeds.
However, if you grow it from pups, you can expect your Fuego to bloom within the first year of planting it.
Now, some people like to grow it from seeds because it makes a bigger and better specimen, while others tend to go the easier way and use pups.
This all depends on what you want and how much time you want to put into your Fuego.
Can I Put My Fuego In Water Overnight?
If your Fuego looks like it needs water, which is often indicated by the curling of the leaves, you can put it overnight in water.
Just take it out as soon as possible as the roots can quite easily rot away.
Why is My Fuego Rotting?
Rotting of your Fuego might be caused by 2 factors:
Too much direct sunlight – dry rot.
Too much water – wet rot.
The solution is to follow the guides of how to care for your Fuego and if it starts to rot because if the damage is minimal, you can quite quickly revive it.
Just place it in a shadier area (dry rot solution) or don’t water it for a couple of days (dry rot solution).
How Long Does Fuego Live?
Like most Air plants, the lifespan of your Fuego depends on how good you take care of it.
Most Fuego plants will live for a couple of years with proper care, but sometimes your Fuego might die within several months despite all the care you give it.
There are no rules and every specimen is different so you just have to adapt to the situation.