Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Ball moss on twig

with 21 comments

Ball Moss on Dead Twig 9967

Here’s a ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, on a dead twig at Devine Lake Park in Leander on November 26, 2014. In the Truth in Advertising department, let me add that a ball moss forms a clump or cluster rather than a ball and isn’t a moss but an epiphyte. That second reality means that these plants sometimes grow on non-living things like outdoor sculptures and metal fences.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2015 at 5:25 AM

21 Responses

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  1. It is Medusa-like.


    January 28, 2015 at 6:44 AM

  2. Is this the same as “Air” plants. You just lay them in the sun and mist them once in awhile?


    January 28, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    • Yes, some people refer to epiphytes as air plants, as opposed to plants that grow in the ground, although of course epiphytes don’t float in the air.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2015 at 9:13 AM

  3. Praise be to the epiphytes. They are a diverse and interesting group of organisms.

    Jim in IA

    January 28, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    • I can hear the cheerleaders now:

      There’s never a loss
      With our Ball Moss!
      We’ll fight, fight, fight
      For Epiphyte!

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2015 at 9:15 AM

  4. A gardener could have a “ball” with this 🙂


    January 28, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    • I wouldn’t want to bawl you out, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a gardener growing one of these. Maybe you can start a trend.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2015 at 9:25 AM

  5. I recognized it as an Epiphyte as it somewhat resembles Spanish Moss I have seen. I raised the related Bromeliads for a short time and their way of life is quite interesting. I first got interested in them when I saw a picture of a tree frog living in one somewhere in a Central American rain forest. And, of course, we’ve all eaten a pineapple. I tried Spanish Moss once but it didn’t work out….we weren’t compatible, it seems.

    Steve Gingold

    January 28, 2015 at 10:18 AM

    • Spanish moss is Tillandsia usneoides, so it’s in the same genus as ball moss. Both occur in Austin but ball moss is by far the more common. I wouldn’t try munching on either one, but you seem to have been more daring, even if it didn’t work out.

      Too bad I wasn’t interested in these things when I spent two years in Central America, because there would have been lots of opportunities for pictures. What did interest me was the Mayan ruins, and I did manage to visit a bunch of sites and take pictures.

      You mentioned the bromeliad that we call a pineapple. The name is strange, if you stop to think about it, because a pineapple doesn’t grow on pines and isn’t an apple. In that way it’s like the so-called ball moss.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2015 at 12:19 PM

      • Awkward phrasing. I meant that I tried to grow some, not eat it. But my wording did make it sound that way.

        I thought about the curious choice of naming. Apparently it was because of its resemblance to a pine cone in the eyes of explorers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pineapple

        Steve Gingold

        January 28, 2015 at 12:45 PM

        • Thanks for clarifying the eating thing. Spanish moss looks appealing as it hangs from trees but I was never tempted to eat any.

          I was aware of the way the growth pattern of a pine cone influenced the name pineapple. Both exemplify the Fibonacci numbers, which have come up in other blog discussions. When I taught second-year algebra I used to bring a bunch of pine cones to class and have students count the number of spirals on the cones.

          As for apple, English has a tradition of using that word to refer to a fruit in general and even to something that isn’t a fruit but resembles one, like the so-called oak apple gall that appeared here last week.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 28, 2015 at 1:17 PM

  6. So where are the usually-avid taxonomist activists, who should be working to get rid of the mis-monicker of “ball moss?” I suppose there isn’t much one can do when dealing with the traditional common name rather than the scientific one, but it brings to mind other misleading ones, such as camel spiders (which are not spiders and have nothing to do with camels).


    January 29, 2015 at 5:00 AM

    • You hit it, Gary: “I suppose there isn’t much one can do when dealing with the traditional common name rather than the scientific one…” Your mention of camel spiders sent me searching for information because I wasn’t familiar with them:


      The term reminds me of ant-lions, which aren’t ants but do prey on them, and whose connection to lions is only metaphorical, based on ferocity:


      Occasionally I see an effort from writers to correct common misnomers, and one that comes to mind is lady beetle rather than the traditional ladybug.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 29, 2015 at 5:58 AM

  7. This has to be the loveliest photo of ball moss I’ve seen. That’s portrait-power for you. Isolate a single specimen, get the lighting and the background right, and the beauty shines. I was interested to see how closely the color resembles that of Spanish moss. I don’t believe I’ve noticed that before, either. Of course, most of the ball moss I see is on dead or dying trees, and that’s not the best setting to admire their finer points.

    Personally, I think “ball moss” is a perfect description. I suppose “ball-shaped moss” would be more precise, but ball moss still distinguishes it from the long, draping Spanish moss rather nicely.


    January 29, 2015 at 7:43 PM

    • I’ll grant that I may have been too harsh on the ball part of the name, given that the word can be used loosely for roughly globular things, but Tillandsia is definitely not a moss, at least not in the botanical sense:


      Regardless, I like your liking of the photograph for its portrait-power. You’re right, too, about the color of this species being virtually the same as that of Tillandsia usneoides—which I guess I should point out doesn’t grow in Spain, but in former Spanish colonies.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 29, 2015 at 10:15 PM

      • Ah – I was thinking only of the ball-shape. My great-aunt Fannie in Baton Rouge taught me about it not being a moss, back in the day when she was stuffing mattresses with Spanish moss, and her midwestern great-niece was saying whatever the 1950’s equivalent of “Ewwww… gross!” might have been.


        January 30, 2015 at 6:39 AM

        • Good for your great-aunt Fannie in Red Stick. I hope she gave plenty of time for all the tiny inhabitants of the moss to depart.

          I seem to remember that we already had “yuck”and “yucky” in the 1950s.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 30, 2015 at 6:54 AM

  8. I get such a kick out of these epiphytes. Bug heaven, besides being cool looking on their own, so it’s worth stopping for a peek when there’s one close enough to examine for dainty denizens. Double win.


    February 1, 2015 at 8:56 PM

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