Spanish Moss

June 9, 2008 | By | Comments (14)

Spanish_moss
Q: I’m fairly new to the South and I have a question that none of the natives have been able to answer for me.  I’m hoping you can.  What causes Spanish moss to grow on one tree when the tree next to it has none?  I know it sounds silly but this question is making me crazy!
Thanks,
Misty

A: Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is one of the signature plants of the Deep South. It is an epiphyte, meaning that it uses trees for support, but doesn’t draw moisture or nutrients from them, although rainwater running down the bark may supply it with both. You generally see it most often along the coast, because it needs high humidity and mild winter temperatures to survive.

Why do you see it certain trees and not others? It tends to favor:
• Trees that have lots of large, well-spaced branches
• Trees whose branches are more horizontal than vertical
• Trees with rough bark that provide a good foothold
Among its favorite hosts — live oak, bald cypress, red cedar, hackberry.

One additional factor is the willingness of the tree to be a happy host. Spanish moss can grow so profusely in a tree that it interferes with photosynthesis by blocking sunlight from reaching the leaves. So certain trees, such as camphor, release chemical substances that kill Spanish moss.

Hope this helps,
The Grump

COMMENTS

  1. Steve Bender

    Chris,

    Ball moss can become a nuisance occasionally. So just clip off the seeds before they mature or remove and discard entire plants.

    June 19, 2014 at 11:22 am
  2. Chris

    Thanks. Can it become a nuisance? Should I clip the seed heads to keep from spreading. I want to use them in decorating drift wood.

    Thanks in advance.

    June 13, 2014 at 9:28 pm
  3. Steve Bender

    Chris,

    The plant you describe sounds like a relative of Spanish moss called ball moss. Ball moss grows just like Spanish moss does, so if you attach it to a branch, it should grow.

    June 12, 2014 at 2:30 pm
  4. Chris

    This is not about Spanish Moss but about a moss(es) that I found on the ground which has fallen from oak and pine trees in South East Texas. They look like balls of spikey moss and has seed heads. Any idea what they are? I picked up a few and would like to grow them on drift wood and hang from tree limbs. Since they seem to be producing seeds should I even attempt to “plant” them around my home in Southeast Louisiana?

    June 10, 2014 at 8:44 pm
  5. Steve Bender

    Patricia,

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but most people find Spanish moss to be beautiful. It does not kill trees.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm
  6. Patricia

    I think that Spanish Moss is a desease that kills beautiful trees . I visitedFlorida recently and cried for the loss of all those trees. Why do people accept it and not do anything to stop it? I did not think it is beautiful.

    April 11, 2013 at 9:23 pm
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Sue,
    The fact that your cherry did not bloom, only a few leaves, and is home to Spanish moss tell me it’s not healthy. You may need to replace it.

    April 9, 2012 at 8:02 am
  8. Sue Abernathy

    I have Okame cherry that i noticed had what appears to be spanish moss starting to grow in Novemer 2011. It was full of buds as usual but did not bloom in late Feb when the other one did. It still has not bloomed as of today, Easter 4/8/12. It has now about a dozen leaves but more moss is growing. Is the moss indicative of another problem? We live in upstate SC near Charlotte NC. The tree is about 10 yrs old?

    April 8, 2012 at 10:50 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Where are you located?

    May 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm
  10. Mission Builders Developers

    I have tried to transplant Spanish Moss with very limited success. I tried to copy the micro climate and solar orientation but still not much luck. Pointers anyone?

    May 3, 2011 at 11:49 am
  11. Grumpy

    While it is possible that Spanish moss might smother a tree by growing so heavily that it interferes with photosynthesis, this is highly unlikely. Killing the host would ultimately kill it too.

    June 22, 2008 at 6:10 pm
  12. Louella Clements

    I would like to know if Spanish Moss will eventually kill off the tree that serves as the host.

    June 22, 2008 at 10:09 am
  13. Sue Ellen

    Spanish Moss is an excellent filler in flower pots. It dresses up the pot and is good at holding in moisture.

    June 20, 2008 at 7:50 am
  14. Ginger

    I have wondered that too! I love it when it’s on magnolia trees, like at Live Oak Cemetery in Selma.
    You don’t see it as much on magnolias as other trees.

    June 10, 2008 at 5:41 pm

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