by Sarah Davin
Long, thin tendrils wrap their way out of the supportive metal wire, suspended safely like a precious bird in its birdcage. The colors of the leaves range from a soft, pleasant, snow-pea green to a vibrant red at the center. The small, living plant appears to subsist on nothing. There are no visible roots to absorb nutrients nor soil to provide it. There are two of these delicate, rootless beings suspended in intricate wirework, and, as a pair, they form a set of earrings, perfect for a woodland nymph or that special nature-loving someone.
Most plants in our lives are stationary, rooted in our gardens or pots and hanging baskets. Because of their small size and containerless capabilities, plants of the genus Tillandsia, colloquially known as air plants, are one of the best plants suited to the fashion trend of living plant jewelry. With moss rings and succulent bracelets, plant motifs and houseplants have been a rising trend, especially among millennials.
When Lora Stridsburg, an artist from East Montpelier, discovered air plants, she found she could combine her creativity and her passion for plants. “I was introduced to air plants when I went to a Harry Potter festival,” she remembers. “I took home an air plant from a vendor there, and in doing research on how to care for the plant I brought home, I discovered some pieces of air plant jewelry for sale. As someone who makes various kinds of jewelry, crafts, and art, I thought it would be fun to try to make some myself.”
The basic materials needed to make air plant jewelry are relatively simple. A pair of jewelry pliers, wire cutters, rust-resistant wire of a thickness and color that you like, and an appropriately sized plant are enough to get started. Birdfolk Collective, with locations in Waterbury and Winooski, is a local source for air plants. Nicole Carey, the owner of Birdfolk Collective, commented that she was surprised by the popularity of the air plants, saying, “We started to sell a small selection of air plants (and other house plants) to show how they look in handmade planters and vases that we sell in store. The plants quickly began to outsell the vessels, so we happily added them to our repertoire of goods.”
Lora suggests using thin wire and forming a spiral wrap to fix the air plant to the necklace. However, if you want to make your piece a little more special, there are plenty of options. According to Stridsburg, some materials work better than others. She said, “Wood, metal, ceramic, and plastic all seem to work pretty well. I would advise against using fabric, because it may end up holding too much moisture when you water your plants. There are so many phenomenal design ideas to use with air plants. The sky is really the limit here. I think one of my favorite concepts is using other natural items, such as driftwood and shells in combination with the plants.”
Working with a living plant does have its challenges. When constructing a piece, you should try to be careful with the leaves, especially if your air plant is on the smaller side. Too much pressure on too few leaves can damage the plant. The wearer should also be aware of the outside temperature, because air plants prefer warmer temperatures, and too many drastic temperature changes can be bad for your living jewelry. An air plant will do its best if it is misted with water two or three times a day and submerged gently in water for a couple minutes once a week.
If you find that your love for these little, green friends has gotten a little out of hand, Carey suggests another method for watering your growing collection of air plants. “Since we have so many to take care of at the shop, we will gather them up and soak them in a jar of water for about an hour every week and a half.”
If you spend most of your time in an office, your plant should be fine. If you find that your air plant is scratching you or irritating your skin, consider adding a backing to your pendant or a shirt with a higher collar to prevent the air plant from rubbing on your skin.
Despite the small challenges involved in wearing or making these pieces, being able to wear something unexpected and alive is a rewarding experience. Nature is a well-loved subject in art, and incorporating something actively living and organic provides a new interpretation to an old subject. Stridsburg commented, “As far as the trend in living jewelry, I think that people are always looking for things that are unique and beautiful, and air plant jewelry is both of these things.”
Stridsburg doesn’t officially sell her air plant jewelry at the moment, but she is willing to make pieces on a commission basis. She has also mentioned that she would be interested in teaching paid classes about how to make air plant jewelry. If you would like to reach out to Lora Stridsburg, you can contact her at email@example.com or (802) 272-0638.