Spanish Moss

Tillandsia usneoides

Summary 2

Spanish moss is found under a variety of conditions, but is at its most luxuriant at the edges of wet hammocks, where it gets bright light and high humidity. Consists of one or more slender stems bearing alternate, thin, curved, heavily scaled leaves, 1-2.5in. long, that grows in chain-like fashion, forming hanging structures. Spanish moss is not actually a moss, but is an epiphytic angiosperm which absorbs nutrients and water through its leaves from the air and rainfall. In the southern U.S., the plant seems to show a preference for growth on southern live oak and bald cypress because of these trees’ high rates of foliar mineral leaching provides an abundant supply of nutrients to the plant. Spanish moss is not from Spain either, but native to Mexico, Central America, South America, the U.S., and the Caribbean. The surface of the Spanish moss plant is covered with tiny, gray scales, which traps water until the plant can absorb it. The plant’s tissue can hold more water than the plant needs to keep it going through dry periods. When the tissues plump up after rain the plant appears more green. As the water is used, it returns to a gray hue. Numerous, small, solitary blue or pale green flowers with three petals grow in the axils of the leaves. The flowers, which bloom for a period of three to four months from spring to fall, form interesting seeds with feathery appendages that float on the wind and stick to tree branches.

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) t_kok, all rights reserved
  2. Adapted by gaskill from a work by (c) t_kok, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA)

More Info

Range Map

iNat Map

Ecosystem Interior uplands
Leaf arrangement Alternate