Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Spanish moss

with 14 comments

You know, the stuff you see hanging in long strands from the trees in movies about the Old South. It doesn’t grow in Spain and it’s not a moss: so much for truth in advertising. Known by botanists as Tillandsia usneoides, it’s an epiphyte, a plant that finds physical support on a tree or other plant or even an inert structure but isn’t a parasite. This is a section of a Spanish moss in a colony of them that I encountered in the preserve behind the Austin Nature Center on February 22. (A smaller relative, ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, made a cameo appearance in the recent picture of a possumhaw beginning to leaf out.)

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 1, 2012 at 5:42 AM

14 Responses

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  1. Living in PA it was always a “sign” during summer vacations that we had made it south when we saw Spanish moss hanging from the trees. When my daughter Skyped with me on Saturday to “show” me around her new home she was so excited to show me the Spanish moss and airplants in her trees.

    Bonnie Michelle

    March 1, 2012 at 6:55 AM

    • So you got a double dose of Spanish moss in the last few days. For whatever reason, this plant grows only in certain places in Austin. In my neighborhood nature park, for example, I’ve never seen it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 1, 2012 at 7:16 AM

  2. I remember growing up there was a father of some neighbor kids who had some Spanish moss hanging from a wire outside his bedroom window. I asked about it. He explained It was there to remind this man from Iowa, that he was no longer in Iowa but in TX.


    March 1, 2012 at 7:02 AM

    • Thanks for that anecdote, Georgette. For me the mild winters always remind me I’m not in New York anymore—and I’ve lived here 35 years already.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 1, 2012 at 7:19 AM

  3. I’m trying to remember this exactly…when we were in SC a couple years ago they said that it way back whenever they would put the moss in their shoes to help with blood pressure…or arthritis or something like that. Weird to me. 🙂 I think they said something about using it as a pillow too. But the guy said he wouldn’t do it because of the bugs that lived in the moss. 🙂


    March 1, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    • Helping lower blood pressure or alleviate arthritis by being in your shoes does sound weird; I wonder what the mechanism was supposed to be. And a bunch of moss as a pillow might not be the most comfortable thing, even without the bugs you mentioned. But the stuff is picturesque when you see it hanging from the trees.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 1, 2012 at 8:16 AM

  4. Steve, I had read recently that the moss is disappearing in the south due to pollution. I went looking for the article and discovered a few other things I didn’t know about it. Such as:

    *It was dried and stripped of its outer gray layer and the resulting black fibers were used to stuff furniture and to make “spawn nets” for fishermen.

    *It has insect repellent properties and has often been worn/draped over the body to protect the wearer from mosquitoes.

    *It has a few tragic legends, and a bit of Spanish and French rivalry, associated with it to explain its appearance in the trees.

    Such an interesting plant! So sad it is disappearing here. ~ Lynda
    (*ref: http://voiceofmoorecounty.com/2010/10/25/spanish-moss-remains-the-stuff-of-legends-throughout-the-deep-south/ )


    March 1, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    • Thanks, Lynda, for the link to that informative article, which taught me more than I ever knew about Spanish moss. I’m mosquito bait, so if anyone in Austin sees a man with a camera wandering around draped in Spanish moss, it’ll be me. I even speak Spanish and have a beard; and to give equal time to the other side, I’ll add that I have hair and speak French.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 1, 2012 at 8:33 AM

    • I forgot to mention one little mistake in the article. When the writer says that Tillandsia usneoides is “the only species of the pineapple family indigenous to the continental United States” he’s forgetting Tillandsia recurvata, ball moss, which is much more widespread in Austin than Spanish moss. Maybe he meant to say “the only genus.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 1, 2012 at 8:38 AM

  5. […] probably safe to say that when we think of Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, our minds emphasize the vertical dimension of this Southern plant as it hangs in long strands from […]

  6. […] Spanish moss « Portraits of Wildflowers […]

  7. […] support but isn’t a parasite of its host. Another example of an “air plant” is the Spanish moss that appeared in these pages on March 1, […]

  8. […] I provided the plant but you’ll have to provide your own Faulkner. […]

  9. […] and it’s been a couple of centuries since Spain had any claim over California. In Texas, Spanish moss is a differently incorrect common name: Tillandsia usneoides is an epiphyte, a plant that grows on […]

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