Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Ball moss

with 23 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Another thing I photographed at the Spring Lake Natural Area in San Marcos on November 15th, though admittedly less dramatic than a bird with a frog dangling from its beak, is this ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, on a dead branch. Ball moss isn’t a moss, and only vaguely could this cluster be called a ball: so much for truth in advertising. It’s also the case that ball moss isn’t a parasite but an epiphyte, a plant that grows on another for support but not for nutrients: so much for appearances.

While this isn’t ball moss’s first appearance in this blog, it’s its* first starring role. The one other time it appeared in these pages was in a barely visible bit part, overshadowed figuratively and literally by lots of bright red possumhaw fruits. Ball moss grows in Mexico and in parts of the southern United States, as you can confirm on the zoomable USDA map. This species is very common in and around Austin.


* Can I get extra credit for using the much-confused it’s and its as consecutive words?

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 25, 2012 at 6:14 AM

23 Responses

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  1. These conjure up my earliest memories of visiting the south. Many came home in bags and suitcases adding to my northern decor until they met their demise!

    Bonnie Michelle

    November 25, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    • You prompted me to look at the U.S. distribution maps of other Tillandsia species, and I see that all of them live only in warm places. I’m glad to hear that the ball mosses you gathered from southern visits lasted at least a while indoors (or in the summer) up north. When you visit Austin you’ll have a chance to see lots of ball moss and some Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 7:58 AM

  2. A fascinating plant. And definitely a gold star for the correct grammar Steve! 😉


    November 25, 2012 at 8:15 AM

  3. This is a fascinating search this morning. When looking on the USDA website I found that ball moss skips over MS and AL to Florida, and yet its cousin Spanish Moss grows from Texas across to Florida.

    This is a beautiful specimen. While not as flashy as others in the genus, you have captured its delicate form, and that is just as appealing. ~Lynda


    November 25, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    • Just be aware that the USDA maps show where species have been reported. A given species may still be present in an unmarked country or state, but not yet noticed and reported. In the case of a few species that aren’t marked on the map for counties near Austin, I’ve found those species growing there anyhow. Another thing to consider is that a species can gradually or even quickly extend its range, making existing maps no longer accurate. Let’s hope you find some ball moss in Alabama.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 6:02 PM

  4. Hi! Your Blog is nice and very interesting.Thanks! I enjoy following your blog! I see you like nature and beauty. I’m an artist.
    I adore painting nature, my blog can be interesting for you. Sergey Gusev, painter.


    November 25, 2012 at 10:53 AM

  5. One of my friends made extra money picking up fallen ball moss and then taking it to bromeliad shows in Dallas and upper parts up North and selling it. They just loved the plant. This was admittedly awhile ago so maybe they figured out that Ball moss isn’t as special as they thought it was. I think it’s pretty cool although if it grows too much on a tree it will cause the tree damage. Your photos always make me think or scurry off to look up info about the plant. Thanks.


    November 25, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    • Tillandsia is in the family Bromeliaceae, so I can understand why it found a welcome place at bromeliad shows. Ball moss is apparently scarce in Dallas and vicinity, whereas it’s very common in Austin, so on that score, too, I can understand why people up north would be happy to get some.

      I’m pleased that these posts send you off in quest of more information. Thanks for letting me know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 5:34 PM

  6. One of the prettiest Christmas trees I’ve seen was decorated with ball moss, pine cones, sweetgum balls and such. I suppose the same applies for ball moss as for Spanish moss – be sure it’s dry before using it, and take it from the tree, not the ground. There are fewer little critters coming along for the ride, that way.

    The apostrophe’s been having quite a bit of attention paid to it recently. You do get extra credit! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone pull off that pairing. I am sure you’ll enjoy this.


    November 25, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    • Those without other resources use what they have, as you pointed out with your Christmas tree example. In the Philippines, people used to use mangrove trees and century plants as makeshift Christmas tree and decorated them with cotton.

      Yes, the same advice is generally good for ball moss; plants that have fallen on the ground tend to pick up “fellow travelers.”

      The guy in the cartoon you linked to could well be me. I’ve always found it revealing that most graffiti are illegible. As for the apostrophe, I wasn’t aware of renewed attention being paid to it. That’s fine with me, but I’m doubtful that anything can help now that things have become so muddled and the schools hold students accountable for so very little.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 5:49 PM

  7. So interesting, especially for us that live north and don’t have such things.


    November 25, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    • Each region has its unique things. I’m glad to show you some of the ones we have in central Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 5:54 PM

  8. You did wonderfully well in your usage of it’s and its. I am not a grammarian and I misspell words farily often but you used the it’s and its correcty. Actually it is quite easy to learn how to use. It’s is the contraction of it is and its shows possession/ownership. Superb use of words.

    But onto the ball moss. I really like this epiphyte. I think it is quite unusual and pretty. Wish that it would grow further north in central Texas.


    November 25, 2012 at 9:50 PM

    • According to the USDA map, ball moss has been documented in Hill County and Limestone County, so perhaps you’ll see some close to where you are.

      Your explanation of it’s and its is of course the correct one, but for some reason that simple distinction eludes a great many Americans.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 10:26 PM

  9. Your subtle colours – greyish white against a sepia background – look spectacular.

    Mary Mageau

    November 26, 2012 at 5:07 AM

    • I’d never managed to get a picture of ball moss that pleased me as much as this one, so I was happy with it, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 26, 2012 at 7:22 AM

  10. […] Marcos on November 15th, during the same session that brought you pictures of hierba del marrano, ball moss, and most notably a bird holding a frog in its […]

  11. […] A post about ball moss last November mentioned that an epiphyte is a plant that regularly grows on another plant or an object for physical 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, 2012. […]

  12. […] like to learn more about ball moss and get a closer and more textured look at one, you can visit a post from 2012. To see the places in the southern United States where ball moss grows, you can check the […]

  13. […] all the ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, on the dead […]

  14. […] On the sunny morning of November 17th I felt compelled to stop for the first time in years at the northern end of Redbud Isle in the Colorado River when we were driving west and saw how good things looked there. The trees turning orange-brown are bald cypresses, Taxodium distichum. Below is a closer view looking up at a bald cypress; the darkish clumps on some of the branches are ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata). […]

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