photograph: harry sawyers

Taking a bit of advice from Chicago magazine, I hit up the Randolph Street Market with the family this weekend. One of the better booths at the fair belonged to Acorn Design Source, a purveyor of a pretty incredible variety of air plants, like the ones pictured. We went home with a Tillandsia variety, and some extremely specific instructions on how to keep it healthy.

"Caring for air plants—it's like a telephone game," Acorn's Hugh Sollo said. "One person tells you one thing, that gets passed along, and nobody knows what they're doing." (It’s true. The advice Hugh was about to give us totally contradicted what another air plant seller had told us years ago.)

Here's how Hugh has made some of his plants live for years:

Just dunk it.  The plant needs about a 10-second immersion in water 2–3 times per week. "Just dunk it in there and shake it around a bit."

Let it breathe. In nature, the plants cling to the sides of trees. At home, you don't have quite that much airflow. So make sure the root area has enough circulation to fully dry out after a watering. The best place to store the plants could be an open basket, hanging from a stand, or propped around the rim of a small jar.

Provide indirect light. The plants don't do well in direct sunlight.

Don't soak it too long. Hugh said he would only soak the plant for an extended period of time—like, 10–15 minutes—if he planned to be away for a vacation. But really, the key to keeping an air plant thriving is just to briefly hydrate it and mostly just give it air.

If you have a specific question—or want to get your hands on some pretty exotic plants at a nice price—Acorn will expand its operation once the Randolph Street Market returns to its outdoor location next month.