tillandsia Usneiodes spanish moss air plant

Air Plant Spotlight: Tillandsia Usneiodes aka Spanish Moss

by Jamie Beck

We’ve all seen it in the movies. It floats and sways like ghostly spirits as it hangs from large oak and cypress trees here in the deep south. Spanish Moss or Tillandsia usneoides is the most common but least-known air plant that we see in the United States. People often wonder, what exactly is it? Is it alive? Can it be picked from trees and grown for displays? Here we discuss everything you need to know about Spanish moss from its origin, care tips, and how to show off this whimsical Tillandsia!

What Is Spanish Moss?

air plant tillandsia Usneiodes spanish moss

Neither Spanish nor moss, this air plant is a Bromeliad native to the southern United States, Central and South America, and parts of the Caribbean. Here at Air Plant Shop, we carry two variants of Spanish Moss – the Guatemala Gray (right) and the Colombia Thick (left) Spanish Moss as seen in the image on the right. French explorers thought the bushy strands looked like the beards of Spanish Conquistadors, naming it “Spanish Beard”. In time, that name was changed to "Spanish Moss" and the air plant was used as insulation, packing material for automobile upholstery, and stuffing for mattresses or furniture...not exactly the stuffed down pillows we're accustomed to these days. Today, Spanish moss not only serves as a beautiful backdrop in our historic Southern cities but also as a creative and charming addition to air plant or floral arrangements and displays!

Is Spanish Moss A Living Air Plant?

air plant tillandsia Usneiodes spanish moss

Yes! Spanish moss is a living epiphyte and like other air plants, it uses its roots to attach to trees and collects nutrients from the air, rain, and debris with its fuzzy hair-like trichomes. Here in the United States, Tillandsia usneoides seems to prefer both the Southern Live Oak and Bald Cypress trees which have unusually high rates of foliar mineral leaching (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus). The moss doesn’t draw these nutrients from the trees through their roots but will absorb these minerals with its trichomes when it rains. 

While Spanish Moss is not parasitic or directly harmful to its host, too much 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, however, and brings more critters in to join the tree’s ecosystem.

Should I Pick Spanish Moss From Trees?

We don't recommend handling or bringing wild Spanish moss indoors. All of 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. (We also think it is much prettier!)

How Do I Care For Spanish Moss?

Whether or not you are an experienced Tillandsia collector, care for Spanish moss is simple and much like other air plants. We recommend an occasional soak for about 20 minutes, every one to two weeks with supplemental misting as needed. Be sure to allow the moss to dry completely between mistings! The Spanish moss does best when it is hung up to receive adequate air circulation and partial or filtered sunlight. Too much direct sun and heat will cause the strands to dry up or burn. Tillandsia usneiodes prefers a warm, humid environment with temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. For more air plant care tips, visit our Air Plant Care Page

How Do I Display My Spanish Moss?

Any way you want! It really is a great way to add some color, contrast, and dimension to a design. Drape it from a mounted or hanging air plant display or attach it to driftwood, cork bark, or branches for a natural theme. We love the look of air plants nestled in a clump of Spanish moss like this Harrisii and Spanish Moss pack. As long as the moss has access to fresh air, indirect light, and can be regularly misted, the possibilities are endless!


Watch this video to learn more.

Look for featured air plant videos and designs with Spanish Moss on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram, and check out our YouTube channel!


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