206. Tuscawilla Park - Spanish Moss

(Tillandsia usneoides)

Curtains of silvery-grey-green Spanish Moss is truly “Icon of the South”.  It lends an atmosphere of peaceful tranquility on a calm sunny day, or spookiness on a dark stormy evening!  No wonder people are intrigued by it.  

Spanish Moss is truly a remarkable plant. 
 Here are a few interesting facts about Spanish Moss

• It’s not a moss!  It’s in the Bromeliad family, which makes it a relative of the Pineapple

• Spanish Moss is not parasitic- it won’t suck out nutrients from the tree it grows in.  Instead, it is an “Ephiphyte”.  It just hangs there, a bit like an “air plant”. 

• Unlike a true “air plant”,   Spanish Moss has no “air-roots”.  Instead, it has tiny little scales on the leaves that can trap any moisture and nutrients in the air.  It’s very interesting to see under a magnifying glass! 
• The climate in Florida obviously makes Spanish Moss very happy, but what happens during droughts and dry spells? It becomes dry, thin, and greyer in color and goes dormant.  When the rains return, soaks up the water, and returns to it’s silvery-green color. 

• Just how much water CAN Spanish Moss hold?  It can soak up 10 times its weight in water!   If the moss population is heavy, smaller or weaker branches simply snap under the weight. 
• Over the years, many uses have been found for Spanish Moss.  In the “olden days”, it was used to stuff mattresses and pillows.   Florists still use it as decoration, and it can be purchased at many craft stores!
• Many animals value Spanish Moss too.  It is an essential shelter for 3 Florida bat species. Chickadees and Warblers use it to conceal their nests.  Ospreys, owls, egrets, and squirrels use it for soft bedding. 
• Chiggers, aka “red-bugs” are frequently found in clumps of Spanish moss on the ground. These tiny relatives of spiders can cause numerous itchy and irritating bites for people who pick up the clumps they see on the ground. They are seldom found in the moss still hanging in the branches.  So if you really want to closely examine this fascinating plant, take it from the tree - not the ground.