Tillandsia usneoides
Common Name: Spanish moss
Type: Epiphyte
Family: Bromeliaceae
Native Range: Tropical Americas
Zone: 8 to 11
Height: 3.00 to 20.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: Rarely flowers
Bloom Description: Pale blue or green
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Insignificant
Leaf: Colorful, Evergreen
Attracts: Birds
Other: Winter Interest

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 8-11 where it is easily grown in full sun to part shade in areas with unpolluted, warm, humid air. Best performance typically occurs in shady areas. Spanish moss is an epiphyte (rootless plant which hangs from the branches of a tree but obtains no food or water from the host tree). Stem surfaces of this plant are covered with scales which absorb water and nutrients from the air and rain. Water should be sprayed on plants as needed, particularly in hot/dry weather conditions. Strands and minute plant parts are carried by birds or wind to other locations. Plant spread also occurs by tiny seeds which are carried by wind to other trees.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Tillandsia usneoides, commonly called Spanish moss, is an epiphytic, fibrous and rootless perennial (bromelliad family) that typically wraps around and droops from branches or slabs of bark of host trees. It is noted for having stringy gray stems (1/32" in diameter) and narrow linear fuzzy gray leaves (to 2-3" long). Stems extend downward, often in masses, to as much as 20' long. This is a frost tender plant that is native from the southeastern U. S. to Chile and Argentina, often found in wet habitats (swamps, rainforests, mangroves, and along streams, rivers, ponds, lakes). In the U. S., it is a signature plant of the deep South where it is commonly found on a number of different trees, most notably on bald cypress and live oak, but also on elm, gum, pecan and pine. Tiny, pale blue-green flowers form in the leaf axils followed by small-capsuled fruit. When ripe, the capsules split releasing tiny seed to the wind. Plants rarely flower and fruit in cultivation. Spanish moss was once commercially harvested for use as a stuffing (about 20 million pounds were used in 1937 for stuffing car seats, mattresses and furniture) and as packing material. Additional uses have included floor mats, insulation and mulch. Current uses are much more restricted (thanks in part to the development of synthetic materials), and include arts and crafts, floral arrangements and garden ornament or mulch.

Genus name honors Elias Til-Landz (d. 1693), a Swedish botanist and professor of medicine at Abo (Turku), Finland.

Specific epithet comes from usnea meaning a tree epiphyte and oides meaning resembling.

The origin of the common name of Spanish moss is unclear. Notwithstanding its common name, it is not a true moss and it is not native to Spain. French settlers in the southeastern U.S. in the 1700s called this plant Barbe Espagnol (Spanish beard) in reference to the long beards often worn by Spanish explorers of that time. Several legends suggest that the name Spanish moss is simply a refinement on than French name.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Ornamental. Mulch. Arts and crafts.