Photo: Molly Beauchemin

L.A.’s “Airplantman” Brings A Designer’s Eye to Tillandsia

You’ve probably never wondered what an air plant smells like, but curious minds should know that not only are some air plants fragrant, but they smell exactly like grape soda– a totally true and totally weird fact that is definitely worth experiencing firsthand.

On a recent visit to the studio of Los Angeles-based air plant connoisseur Josh Rosen, aka Airplantman, we had the pleasure of experiencing this ourselves. Rosen’s workspace is tucked in the backyard of a Santa Monica home, with Tillandsia (the air plant genus containing some 600 species) decking out every available surface.

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On the walls are some of Rosen’s “AirplantFrames”: hand-crafted air plant displays that can be mounted as living art. Rosen also produces a line of “AirplantVessels”: air plants suspended above sculptural blocks that act as small, delicate accents on tables or windowsills (as viewable in the gallery below).

Apart from his take-home pieces, Rosen works as an air plant consultant for private, corporate, and public groups; when we visited, he had just returned from a consulting trip to Waikiki, where he is installing an air plant feature in a Starbucks Reserve (Starbuck’s new luxe café line). Other examples of his work can be spotted at the W Hotel in Westwood and the London Hotel in West Hollywood.

Photo: Molly Beauchemin

“I was really not loving how [air plants] were often displayed and used: either put in those glass balls– which suffocates them, they like air circulation,” Rosen laments, “Or displayed in a more naturalist way, like on a branch. Which I thought was nice, but I wanted to showcase what was special about them,” he reflects on the inspiration for his designs. “All of our products try to highlight the fact they don’t need any soil and also can really easily get the care they need, which is regular water and the ability to dry off.”

Speaking of which, Rosen has an important message for current and prospective air plant owners:

Photo: Molly Beauchemin

“There’s a big misconception about air plants, that they are indestructible and never need water. That always makes my skin crawl because that’s going to mean a lot of dead air plants,” Rosen explains. “They can be quite hardy in the right situation, but they need care like any plant.

“There’s a big misconception about air plants that they are indestructible and never need water. That always makes my skin crawl,” says Rosen.

“When you’ve an air conditioner or a heater going, that will desiccate their leaves. I recommend weekly, soaking, submerging the entire plant, overnight. It doesn’t need to be nighttime (they actually respirate during the night) but at least six to eight hours; you can leave them up to 24 hours. A little spritz is nice but it’s not really rehydrating it.

If you’re trying to do it by spraying alone, you need to spray ’til the whole plant is dripping wet and probably do that a few times a week… If you can use filtered water that’s great. Often tap water has a lot of minerals in it– salts and stuff– and that can clog up the leaves.” Amused, Rosen adds, “I used to haul a lot of filtered water around for the air plants that was better than the water I drank myself.”

According to Rosen, location is also an essential consideration.

“Somewhere near a window, where they’ll get bright, filtered light [is ideal]. If you live in a climate where you can crack the window and get a little fresh air, the plants will be even happier,” Rosen advises of caring for air plants at home, adding (as if to qualify) that you should rotate air plants and give them each a turn if you have one especially good spot.

Photo: Molly Beauchemin

For anyone interested in procuring their own AirplantVessel, AirplantFrame, or admiring the workspace of an air plant artist, Rosen’s studio is open by appointment to anyone living in Los Angeles– or abroad. “We’ve had some people from Sweden on vacation come by,” Rosen laughs. “It’s an eclectic mix I’d say.”

 To learn more about air plants and Airplantman, visit Rosen’s website. Check out more of Rosen’s work in the gallery below.


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