tillandsia spanish moss air plant

Air Plant Spotlight: Spanish Moss

by Jamie Beck

Tillandsia Usneiodes & Its Many Uses

We’ve all seen it in the movies. It’s floats and sways like ghostly spirits as it hangs from large oak trees and cypress trees here in the deep south. Spanish Moss or Tillandsia usneoides is probably the most popular but least known air plant if that makes any sense. You’ve all seen it but did you know you can grow it yourself and use it in your air plant designs? See our listing for Fresh Spanish Moss.

Is it Moss from Spain?

Neither, Spanish nor moss, this air plant is a Bromeliad native to the southern United States, Central and South America, along with parts of the caribbean. It has been seen here in the use as far north as Virginia and as far west as Texas. French explorers thought it looked like the beards of Spanish Conquistadors and named it “Spanish Beard.” In time that name was changed to Spanish Moss and now we all know it as a an air plant that works really well in air plant arrangements or on its own.

What does Spanish Moss eat?

Like other air plants, Spanish Moss collects nutrients from the air and not the plants on which it grows. Living up in trees give it the perfect vantage point to collect water, fog, dust and debris with its fuzzy hair like trichomes. These trichomes are used to collect and absorb the nutrients it needs to survive. Here in the US it seems to prefer both the Southern Live Oak and Bald Cypress trees. Both trees have unusually high rates of foliar mineral leaching (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus.) Again, the moss doesn’t draw these nutrients from the trees through their roots but will absorb these minerals with its trichrome when it rains. When caring for Spanish Moss at home a good soaking in rain water once a week usually does the trick. I like to soak mine with a mister so it doesn’t break up while being removed from its bath.

Is it a pest?

Like most air plants, Spanish Moss grows on other plants. They are not officially parasites though as they don’t draw their nutrients from their host. They just sort of hang out like an unwanted house guest. Too much Spanish Moss on a host tree can cause problems when wet by adding additional weight. It can also block light from getting to critical tree leaves, buds and branches. Most of the time its presence is benign and brings more critter in to join the tree’s eco system.

Should I pick Spanish Moss from trees for my air plant designs?

All our Spanish Moss is grown in a controlled greenhouse environment to ensure it is pest free. Chiggers can naturally occur in Spanish Moss that has touched the ground but only in the wild. Greenhouse Spanish Moss is treated for pests and is the safer bet. If you do decide to harvest your own we recommend either microwaving your moss or boiling it several times to keep any unwanted critters from moving into your house...however that will kill it!

Using Spanish Moss in Air Plant Designs

Any way you want! It really is a great way to add some color contrast or scale to a design. Think of using at a foreground “grass” or low lying shrubbery. Add medium and tall air plants to give your design and sense of scale or size.

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