Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for December 4th, 2016

Not Spanish moss

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UPDATE. Based on Bill Dodd’s comment that he thought this is a lichen, Usnea trichodea, rather than the epiphytic vascular plant known as Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides (where usneoides means ‘looking like Usnea‘), I returned to Monument Hill on January 3, 2017, and confirmed that this is indeed a lichen. I observed the bone-like articulations Bill mentioned, so this probably is the “beard” lichen Usnea trichodea. I’ve updated the text below and added a link to the true Spanish moss of Texas.


An alternate common name for California’s lace lichen, which you saw last time, is Spanish moss. That’s stretching the truth, because a lichen isn’t a moss, 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 another plant or object for physical support but not sustenance.

On November 30th I visited Monument Hill State Historic Site in La Grange, 75 miles southeast of my home in Austin, and thought I found Spanish moss in some of the trees there. After the original version of this post appeared, Bill Dodd said in a comment that he thought the pictures actually showed a lichen, Usnea trichodea. I now believe he was right. Click the excerpt below if you’d like to zoom in on the intricate texture of this lichen.


© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 4, 2016 at 5:07 AM

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