Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Usnea trichodea

with 41 comments

During a March 6th visit to Buescher State Park we saw plenty of grayish-tan stuff conspicuously hanging from trees. Three years ago and a little further east in Texas I thought I was looking at Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, but reader Bill Dodd clued me in that it was most likely the lichen Usnea trichodea, which people apparently call bony beard lichen. Notice how Spanish moss’s species name, usneoides, even means ‘looking like Usnea’. Further evidence comes from the fact that the USDA distribution map for Spanish moss is not marked for Bastrop County, which is where Buescher State Park is located. Some ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, in the upper parts of the trees in both photographs adds to the complexity of the situation.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 14, 2020 at 4:42 AM

Posted in nature photography

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41 Responses

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  1. I remember your previous posting about this lichen. I found this site as I looked for information about its distribution, and sure enough: all of the sightings save two (near Columbus and Floresville) are north of I-10, and clustered in your area. Spanish moss we have, and a lot of it, but to see this one alive I’d have to travel. It’s interesting that it grows alongside ball moss in the same way that Spanish moss does.


    March 14, 2020 at 6:02 AM

    • And happy ‘Pi Day’!


      March 14, 2020 at 6:27 AM

      • While replying to your previous comment about the 3 plum pairs (2 of blossoms and 1 of buds), I thought about the fact that this is π Day and asked myself what connection I could make. One that I came up with is that the sum of the digits in 314 is 8, which is 2 to the 3rd power.

        Steve Schwartzman

        March 14, 2020 at 7:16 AM

    • So we could say that you were happy to consort with the lichen consortium. Now you’ll most likely have to consort with the Yankees north of I-10 to see this lichen itself. I just looked at iNaturalist and found a sighting of Usnea trichodea from Buescher State Park:


      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2020 at 7:15 AM

  2. The lichen on your photos looks somewhat like the sarmentosa lichen commonly known in our area as witch’s hair.

    Peter Klopp

    March 14, 2020 at 8:25 AM

    • Ah, a different hair metaphor, this time witches rather than men. I see that yours grows in temperate rainforests.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2020 at 12:31 PM

  3. The county range maps from the Biota of North America Program (BONAP.org) show a number of counties with T. usneoides present, including Bastrop and Travis. This site reports only free-living vascular plants, so no lichens.

    J. Turner

    March 14, 2020 at 9:08 AM

    • Thanks for checking that. I’d meant to compare BONAP to USDA because BONAP is sometimes more up-to-date. That leaves open the possibility that maybe this was Spanish moss after all.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2020 at 1:31 PM

  4. Ha~a lichen consortium! It is interesting how the two consort in that manner but then, by definition a lichen is all about co-habiting.


    March 14, 2020 at 10:21 AM

    • Right you are, a natural symbiosis. I’ve wondered how scientists figured that out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2020 at 12:32 PM

      • It makes you wonder what else might be going on right under our noses, just waiting to be figured out.


        March 15, 2020 at 8:59 AM

  5. This is way outside my range, but my first thought was, can’t be good for the tree.

    Michael Scandling

    March 14, 2020 at 10:57 AM

    • These are epiphytes, which, unlike parasites, don’t rely on the tree for anything more than support. I’ve read that in moderate amounts they don’t cause harm to the tree, but when the epiphytes get very dense they can block light and thereby damage the tree.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2020 at 12:35 PM

      • Thanks. I feel better. Yesterday I was admiring a flower and asked her what it was. She said, “It’s invasive and a pain in the [posterior] for any gardener.”

        Michael Scandling

        March 14, 2020 at 12:40 PM

        • I’m no gardener but I still lament seeing the many alien species that have invaded my area. Each region I’ve traveled to has mostly had different invasives, but invasives nonetheless.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 14, 2020 at 1:23 PM

          • Ironically, some of the prettiest plants we have here in California are invasive and horribly destructive.

            Michael Scandling

            March 14, 2020 at 1:30 PM

            • When I visited California in the late ’70s and early ’80s I liked seeing all the eucalyptus trees and ice plants. Only after I got interested in native plants in 1999 did I learn that both of those are non-native, and ice plants are highly invasive. Trying to take pictures at a California beach in 2016, I had trouble finding views that didn’t include ice plants. I did find a few, but I couldn’t take some of the pictures I would otherwise have taken.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 14, 2020 at 1:39 PM

              • I have to admit, I just shoot the ice plants. Spring flowers are really beautiful. One really needs to underexpose — sometimes as much as two stops — to keep from blowing out the red channel.

                Michael Scandling

                March 14, 2020 at 1:45 PM

                • I used to underexpose as a matter of course. Then I read that our digital sensors and RAW format give more leeway on the overexposed side, so I stopped underexposing and sometimes overexpose a third of a stop; at least a full stop if I’m shooting a scene that’s bright throughout.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 14, 2020 at 3:57 PM

                • I watch the channel histograms. On Anna‘s hummingbirds, I have to underexpose three or more stops to keep from blowing out the red channel on my histogram.

                  Michael Scandling

                  March 14, 2020 at 6:54 PM

                • That’s some saturated red.
                  Your mention of the channel histograms made me think that maybe television should offer a histogram channel.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 14, 2020 at 7:28 PM

                • Again I say ouch.

                  Michael Scandling

                  March 14, 2020 at 7:47 PM

  6. I can’t say as I think this stuff looks very attractive, kind of makes me feel itchy just looking at it, but that is a great name “bony beard lichen” !!

    Robert Parker

    March 14, 2020 at 11:10 AM

    • While “bony beard lichen” is the name I found online, I’ve never heard anyone say it—but then I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about it at all, except for the guy who suggested this wasn’t Spanish moss, and he referred to it with its scientific name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2020 at 1:20 PM

  7. I’d love to wander in some thickness of that. Might be like trying to wander through spider webs. I’ve had a bromeliad in the past in the Tillandsia genus but don’t remember the species. It didn’t look like Spanish Moss though.

    Steve Gingold

    March 15, 2020 at 3:39 AM

    • Right. The darker clumps in the upper part of the second picture are ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, which don’t look like Spanish moss or like Usnea. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to push through a tangle of either kind of the hanging stuff.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 15, 2020 at 7:22 AM

  8. Yup, what we know as Spanish moss here is just lichen. It is common among some of the pines.


    March 15, 2020 at 7:33 PM

    • You’re fortunate to have it. I enjoyed seeing and photographing lace lichen in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in 2016:


      Steve Schwartzman

      March 15, 2020 at 9:06 PM

      • Those are the bigleaf maple, which is the sugaring maple of the West. The evergreen foliage to the left and right is that of bay laurel. Bigleaf maple is RAD!


        March 16, 2020 at 12:50 PM

        • Thanks for letting me know what those are. In California I’m a stranger in a strange land, botanically speaking.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 16, 2020 at 3:23 PM

          • California is about as strange as it gets. The trees are common though. Bay laurel is native as far north as the Central Coast of Oregon. Bigleaf maple is native as far north as the coast of British Columbia, right up to the border of Alaska.


            March 16, 2020 at 10:22 PM

      • Anyway, the lichen is not so ornate in the shabby dead growth of the ponderosa pines. It proliferates more in the necrotic growth than in the viable growth that is growing and exfoliating. It reminds me that we need more vegetation management to reduce the combustibility of the forest.


        March 16, 2020 at 12:51 PM

        • Too much accumulated fuel was a big factor in the loss of most of the Lost Pines forest in Bastrop, Texas, after the drought of 2011 led to forest fires.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 16, 2020 at 3:25 PM

          • Fires are as natural here as they are there, but I still do not want them to get too close to the buildings, which is why I would prefer to clear MUCH more vegetation.


            March 16, 2020 at 10:24 PM

            • From what I’ve read and seen, wildfires in recent years have been a lot more common in California than in Texas.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 17, 2020 at 7:11 AM

              • There are a lot more people in California, and many make responsible vegetation management difficult.


                March 18, 2020 at 10:17 AM

                • Among them are the mowers who cut down wildflowers in their prime—at least that’s how it is in Texas.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 18, 2020 at 11:45 AM

                • Some do. Some would sue a neighbor for cutting down an aggressively invasive exotic Acacia dealbata. It makes no sense. A neighbor in Montara built a nice home above a naturalized meadow of daffodil. (It was an abandoned cut flower crop.) The daffodil were not invasive beyond the meadow, and everyone in town loved them. However, the new homeowner had them all killed, and then promptly sold the home. Not too far away, some crazy environmental group had massive old Monterey cypress cut down, just because they were a few miles from what some believed to be their natural range, even though their natural range is not well documented. No one seems to be concerned about the aggressively invasive exotic blue gum that are thousands of miles from their native range in Tasmania.


                  March 18, 2020 at 12:48 PM

  9. Nice! We have some Usneas here U. longissima is the star), and I love them.


    March 20, 2020 at 8:15 PM

    • Given that these lichens are by nature long, I’m longing to see the one designated longissima.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2020 at 5:04 AM

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