Despite their name, air plants require more than just air to live. They also require light, water, and nutrients. To determine if your air plant wants water you can look for a few easy signs.
In general, air plants communicate thirst with their leaves. A healthy air plant with plenty of water will usually have wider, flatter leaves. For those air plants with visible trichomes (those fuzzy white things on the outside of their leaves) they should appear “extra fuzzy.”
When an air plant wants water, the leaves will start to form a “U” shape. Over time, the tips may brown, the leaves may grow thinner, and/or the leaves may curl up on themselves.
The image below is the same air plant shown above, but almost a week later with no water. The leaves are just starting to curl at the edges:
The curling leaves are often easier to see in larger air plants or those with different types of leaves. The image below is a stricta hard leaf which really displays the curling pattern when it wants water:
Or we can look at an extreme example. This poor little guy was for sale in a major retailer both spray painted artificially red and horrifically dehydrated. My best guess is that this is a brachycaulos (which is commonly spray painted by retailers), but it’s very hard to tell in this current state.
But even neglected, air plants are very hardy. I’ve been caring for this one for a few months and you can already see the new green growth coming out of the center. There is always hope!