What Is That Plant Growing On Power Lines? - PlantSnap

What Is That Plant Growing On Power Lines?

by | Dec 21, 2018

Power lines might not seem like the ideal place for a plant to call home, but curious observers throughout the Americas might see strange, spiky plants that rest upon power lines like party decorations. So what is that plant growing on power lines? Never fear, PlantSnap is here to identify this mystery plant once and for all! Drumroll, please…


air plant

Photo by Rudy Giron


These plants are from the genus Tillandsia – also known as airplants or ballmoss

There are over 650 different species within this genus. While some of these plants’ colloquial names suggest otherwise, they are not genuine moss. Instead, they are a flowering plant of the Bromeliaceae family.

Tillandsia recurvata, in particular, is often seen clinging to phone wires lining the street. Airplants like Tillandsia recurvata thrive in environments that are low-light and high humidity with little airflow. They can annoy disgruntled landowners, who sometimes regard the plant as an ugly weed.


Some people love airplants

Airplants are growing in popularity because they are a low maintenance house plant that only needs to be watered occasionally. These plants are featured in hip garden gift stores and perched upon millennial window-sills. However they’re nothing new, ballmoss is indigenous to a many warmer regions of the Americas. Their natural habitat stretches from coastal regions of the state of Georgia, all the way down to northern Argentina and Chile.  Ball moss doesn’t travel to cooler climates naturally as it is very sensitive to freezing, especially when its leaves are moist. Other species of Tillandsia are more hardy and can grow in colder areas, and some species even tolerate frost.  


air plant


More fun facts about airplants

In addition to growing on powerlines, Tillandsia plants grow on trees (such as the southern live oak tree). Certain species will also grow upon rocks and in arid soil. They usually grow to a spherical size somewhere between a golf ball and a soccer ball.

Even though they are often found growing upon other plants, Tillandsia are not parasites. They are epiphytes. This means that the airplants do not derive nutrition from their host, but seek physical support from a host (a tree, a power line, a rock or a refrigerator magnet).

Airplants absorb water that collects on its silvery leaves and photosynthesizes. They also collect nitrogen from bacteria that travel through the air via windblown dust. Because air plants do not have a functional root system, they preserve water by closing their stomata during the day and reopening again at night. This process is known as a CAM cycle.

Moths, hummingbirds, and bats pollinate Tillandsia. They can take many years to flower. When the plant does finally fruit, it also signifies the end of the individual plant’s life. Seeds form and the mother plant is then destroyed – a final hurrah ending in both poetic and literal death.


air plant


So how do you keep an airplant alive?

Most airplants are happiest with an overnight soak in water around once a week, depending on the climate. Follow that up with four hours of bright, indirect light, allowing the plant to dry out completely. Take care that the plant doesn’t end up burning in the sun. Indirect light is key. Keep the plant in a place with air circulation (aka not a terrarium). If you’re feeling particularly generous, you can even fertilize your airplant once a month with a bromeliad mix.


air plant


Have you spotted airplants or ballmoss clustered up on power lines? Or enjoyed the strange presence of these spiky plants in your home? We’d love to hear about your experiences with Tillandsia and any creative ideas about how to take care of airplants in your home. 



  1. Graham D. Lonie

    In the tropics (in my yard) they grow on the telephone line in bright daylight. It’s a wonder they find nourishment up there.

  2. Diane Cavaness

    I was just told that moss grows mainly on negative power lines. I do notice that when there are two power lines, the moss is mostly on just one of them.
    Any truth to this?

  3. Joanna Arias

    the airplants grow on the old power lines that run on the side of the drying platform at the coffee collectivo in my husbands village in the Sierra Maestra mountains in Cuba. They are beautiful and I love seeing them.

  4. Jeni

    Certainly a very interesting plant! I’ve never heard of an airplant before. Well, at least I finally found a plant that seems pretty easy for me to take care of (should I ever get one) since I do not seem to possess a green thumb, haha. 😄

  5. Christine

    I have received some air plant seeds from amazon but don’t know what to do with them, any advice please ?


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