Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘epiphyte

Lush Spanish moss

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The first thing that caught my attention at Palmetto State Park on January 29th wasn’t the palmettos but the lush Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) hanging from many of the trees. Extra points if you know that Spanish moss is an epiphyte and a vascular plant rather than a true moss. Even more points if you can say lush Spanish moss quickly five times without messing up.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 9, 2021 at 3:47 AM

Usnea trichodea

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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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Opportunistically epiphytic*

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prickly-pear-cactus-in-cleft-of-saguaro-2476

The subjects of two recent successive posts—one from California and one from Texas—were epiphytes, organisms that grow on animate or inanimate objects for physical support but not for sustenance. Once in a while the seed of a plant that normally grows in the ground manages to take hold on something above the ground and survive, thus becoming an epiphyte. That was the case with the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.) that I saw on November 8th in the cleft of a giant saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) in the eastern section of Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.

Given the huge size difference between the two types of cacti, you can’t see the prickly pear well in the photograph above, but you’re welcome to click the excerpt below to zoom in for a closer look.

prickly-pear-cactus-in-cleft-of-saguaro-2478-detail

* In spite of my hope that the phrase “opportunistically epiphytic” would be unique, an Internet search turned up one other example.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2016 at 4:00 AM

Not Spanish moss

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spanish-moss-in-tree-3991

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.

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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.

spanish-moss-with-two-greenbrier-leaves-3988-detail

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 4, 2016 at 5:07 AM

What sunlight through the forest canopy revealed in a new place

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Ball Moss on Slender Branch 3980

Click for better clarity and quality.

The place was a newly opened section of the Violet Crown Trail north of US 290, where the sunlight coming through the forest canopy on the morning of September 2nd lit up the lower of two ball mosses, Tillandsia recurvata. Next to the highlighted ball moss—which is no moss—a dry leaf rotated in the breeze at the end of a long strand of spider silk; here, at the right moment in its cycle, the leaf was fully backlit. Some of the leaves overhead, likewise illuminated, glowed green across the top of the image.

You can read more about the new section of the Violet Crown Trail in an article by Pam Leblanc (who was a calculus student of mine more than 30 years ago).

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2015 at 5:10 AM

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