Monday, May 31, 2010

I Told You it Flowered!

Many if my co-inhabitants here in the South will recognize my discussion today. It is Tillandsia usneoides, better known as Spanish Moss. It is also known as Grandfather's Graybeard or Florida Moss. You see it draping from trees all over here in Charleston. It's range is basically the entire Southeast, which it is native to, from Florida to the Carolinas and out to Texas. You have probably seen it a thousand times in movies and such, but just in case, here is what it looks like.

It is an epiphytic plant, which means it grows on another plant, but does not rely on the host plant for nutrients. The plant has no roots but derives its nutrients from rainfall, airborne dust and anything else it happens to gather from the air.

While the plant is not parasitic, it can sometimes damage the host tree by shading the leaves, thus reducing photosynthesis, and by weighing down and breaking the branches. It can reach lengths of 20 feet. I try to thin it out as much as I can, personally I don't even like the looks of it, but that is probably the Yankee in me talking.

For many years and even today, it has many uses. The fibers were originally used in Louisiana for mattresses, and in upholstering. Dry Spanish moss was used for fire arrows. The moss was wrapped around the base of the shaft, lit on fire and then shot from the bow. The moss was, at one time, boiled to make a tea for chills and fever.

Today, Spanish Moss is used in flower arrangements and as decorations for handicrafts.
Several species of bats including the Seminole bat roost in clumps of Spanish moss. Yellow Throated Warblers and Northern Parulas build their nests inside clumps of living Spanish moss. Several other species of birds gather the moss for nesting material. There is at least one species of spider that only occurs in Spanish moss. It is also used as fodder for animals. I know for a fact that my mother's goose "Frank" loves it!

Spanish Moss grows well in partial shade. It prefers moist environments but can survive well in dry habitats too. It is propagated by seed or by division. The plants are very easy to grow, as they need no soil or transplanting.

Now, You know a lot about Spanish Moss. I have told many people here that it flowers and they have looked at me like I was crazy. Well, the crazy man is going to have the last laugh! For those of you in at least the greater Charleston area, go out and look at the moss in your trees, it is flowering now. For the rest of you, here is the proof! It is the tiny, Lime Green, three petal, star looking things. Click on the picture to bring it up larger.

Happy Growing!

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