Beginners and experts alike can enjoy growing Ionantha rubra, and it’s sure to look fantastic in any home.

In this guide, our team of pros reveals their top care tips while discussing the perfect growing conditions for an Ionantha rubra that truly shines.

What Is Ionantha Rubra?

Ionantha rubra, also known as the sky plant, is a variety of Tillandsia ionantha. It belongs to the air plant family, a group of epiphytic plants that absorb water and nutrients through their foliage rather than their roots. Native to Mexico and Costa Rica, nowadays, it’s one of the most common air plants you will find in the houseplant trade.

This blooming air plant has a small, compact shape, rarely growing more than 4 inches (10 cm) in length. The Ionantha rubra leaves are elongated, slightly spiky, and displayed in a rosette.

When the plant is young, they are light green, almost silvery, then becomes red at the tips when the plant matures. The inflorescence is around 2 inches (5 cm) in size, with contrasting purple and blue petals, which is where the name “ionantha” (“with violet flowers” in Latin) comes from.

– Tillandsia Ionantha Varieties

Tillandsia ionantha rubra is the most common variety of Tillandsia ionantha. This species of tiny air plant comes in several cultivars, all known for their purple flowers and red-tipped foliage.

Here are some exciting forms to keep an eye out for:

  • Tillandsia ionantha “Scaposa”: narrow, compact form, with pink tips
  • Tillandsia ionantha “Guatemala”: wider form, with a round look and pointy leaves
  • Tillandsia ionantha “Victoria”: a hybrid with longer leaves and intense pink coloring
  • Tillandsia ionantha “Fuego”: very showy, bright red tips on the foliage
  • Tillandsia ionantha var. Vanhyningii: a rare variety, best known for its thick leaves that form a long, branch-like body and abundant offset growth after blooming

– Is Ionantha Rubra Toxic?

Ionantha rubra is not toxic to cats and dogs. However, we recommend keeping it away from your pets, especially cats, as they can be tempted to play with this delicate air plant.

Ionantha Rubra Care Guide

Whether you’re a beginner gardener or just a novice when it comes to air plants, Ionantha rubra will be perfect for you. Check out what makes this plant so easy and fun to grow.

– Light Requirements

Ionantha rubra needs plenty of bright indirect light but should be sheltered from direct sun exposure. Too much sun will scorch the leaves and cause the plant to dry out. Ideally, the plant should be kept 2-3 feet away from the window, but avoid placing it in a shaded spot.

If you have a room with eastern or western exposure, it will be perfect for Ionantha rubra. You can also keep your Ionantha rubra in the kitchen or bathroom, where the humidity boost will prevent them from drying out too fast. This plant also tolerates artificial light, making it a great choice for offices.

– Temperature Requirements

Ionantha rubra grows best in temperatures ranging from 64 to 80 degrees F (18 to 27 C). It can also be kept outdoors, but bear in mind that this plant is not frost-tolerant. If it’s exposed to temperatures below 32 F (0 C) for too long, it can suffer permanent damage.

– Water Requirements

Ionantha rubra needs to be watered once a week. During hot, dry days, you can also mist the plant daily, but keep in mind that misting alone is not enough to keep the foliage hydrated. You can tell if your air plant is thirsty by checking the leaves. They will feel soft to the touch, with a wilted look and faded almost gray color.

The correct way to water Ionantha rubra is through soaking. Start by filling a bowl with water, and let it sit overnight. This will allow chemicals such as chlorine to evaporate and also bring the water to room temperature.

Then, fully submerge the plant in water for 30 minutes. When done, take out the plant, give it a shake and place it upside down on a towel for at least an hour.

The last step is crucial in keeping your Ionantha air plant healthy. It allows the water to drip away from the base of the plant, which helps prevent crown rot. Once the plant has dried out, you can put it back on its display.

– Humidity Requirements

Ionantha rubra has moderate humidity requirements. It will grow comfortably in rooms where the air moisture levels are around 40 to 50 percent. If the air is too dry, we recommend misting it daily, especially in summer. When misting your air plant, hold it upside down and avoid spraying water directly in the middle of the rosette.

As the name ‘air plants’ suggests, Ionantha rubra also needs good air circulation. This will allow the leaves to dry out in between waterings and prevent fungal problems, which are deadly for air plants. However, avoid keeping the plant close to a radiator or under an air vent, as it doesn’t like strong drafts.

– Fertilizer Requirements

Ionantha rubra doesn’t need a lot of fertilizers to grow. To help the plant grow and to encourage blooming, we recommend a diluted fertilizer application once a month in spring and summer. The plant doesn’t need feeding during winter.

The best fertilizers for Ionantha rubra should be low in nitrogen. There are several commercially available options you can choose from, sold in either spray or liquid form.

Always make sure that the fertilizer you buy is specifically designed for air plants or bromeliads. It should not contain any zinc or copper micronutrients, which are toxic for this plant. Also, avoid using urea-based nitrogen fertilizers.

The way you fertilize your Ionantha rubra depends on the type of product used. If you’re using a spray fertilizer, simply mist the leaves according to the instructions on the label. For liquid fertilizers, mix the recommended amount in water, then soak the air plant in the solution for 20 to 30 minutes.

– Does Ionantha Rubra Need Soil?

Like all air plants, Ionantha rubra does not need soil to grow. In fact, keeping the base of the plant in soil will result in rot. This plant has evolved to absorb all the water and nutrients it needs through its foliage. The leaves are covered in trichomes, a type of specialized cells that act like small sponges, absorbing the water into the leaf surface.

In their natural habitat, air plants will grow roots, also called ‘holdfasts, which they use to attach themselves to trees. Even indoors, it’s not uncommon for your Ionantha rubra to start rooting. Depending on your preference, you can either trim these roots or use them to mount the plant on a permanent display, such as a piece of driftwood or a green wall.

– How Do You Get Ionantha Rubra to Bloom?

Ionantha rubra blooms when it reaches maturity, usually when the plant is at least three years old. If your plant is old enough, you can encourage flowering by giving it an air plant fertilizer once a month and increasing the amount of light it receives. Avoid placing it in direct sunlight, though, as this will only scorch the leaves.

All air plants only bloom once in their lifetime. Sadly, this means that no amount of care can get your Ionantha rubra to flower again. On a happier note, the plant will start growing offsets after blooming, which takes us to the next part of our care guide.

Ionantha Rubra Propagation Guide

Ionantha rubra is propagated through offset division. To use this method, first get your air plant to bloom. After the flowers have wilted, the plant will start producing smaller versions of itself, known as offsets, or “pups,” which grow from the plant’s base.

Here’s how you can use them to propagate your Ionantha plant:

  • Allow the offsets to grow until they are at least one-third the size of the mother plant.
  • Using your fingers, gently twist the offsets until they detach. They should come off fairly easy, so there’s no need to use a blade or scissors to cut them off.
  • Soak the offsets in room temperature water for 20-30 minutes, then place them on a display of your choice.
  • That’s it! You have successfully propagated your air plant!

The mother plant will slowly start dying after the offsets have been separated. One way to make it live longer is to leave some of the ‘pups’ attached. In the wild, air plants will form large clusters of old and new plants, which continue to grow together for many years.

Common Pests and Problems

– Crown Rot

The most common problem for Ionantha rubra is crown rot. Once it sets in, saving the plant is almost impossible. To prevent this fungal disease, always make sure that you allow the water to drain from the leaves after watering it by placing it upside down for at least an hour. Also, avoid spraying water in the rosette, and just spray the leaves instead.

– Dry, Brown Tips

This is a sign that your Ionantha rubra is getting too much light or the air in the room is too dry. Place the plant away from direct sunlight to avoid scorching the foliage, and mist it daily on hot, dry days.

– Pests

Ionantha rubra rarely suffers from any pest infestations. Regular watering and good air circulation around the plant should keep it safe from any attacks. On occasion, you may notice pests such as mealybugs and scale on the foliage.

To get rid of them, soak the plant in a solution of water and Imidacloprid for 20-30 minutes. Repeat the treatment once a week until the pests are gone.


Small air plants are increasingly getting more popular in the world of gardening, and Ionantha rubra is a top choice for everyone, be it beginners or pros.

Let’s take another quick look at the basics:

  • Ionantha rubra is a small, flowering air plant native to Mexico and Central America.
  • It is one of the easiest air plants to grow and easy to find in the houseplant trade.
  • For healthy growth, provide it with bright indirect light, good air circulation, and a deep soak in water once a week.
  • You can propagate it through offset division after the plant has flowered.
  • Ionantha rubra is resistant to most pests but can be very sensitive to crown rot.

What are you waiting for? Brighten up your home with a little pot (or two) of Ionantha rubra!

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