Qu’est Que C’est Nature – Spanish Moss Blooms!

Spanish Moss adds a certain touch of class to the trees upon which it hangs. This is especially true with our iconic Live Oaks that, when draped with Spanish Moss and Resurrection Fern, helps define much of the coastline of the south. Spanish Moss is also common on Bald Cypress. But as with many things in nature, taking a closer look reveals interesting surprises and some fun facts.

Epiphytes Decorate our Trees

Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides, is one of a group of plants known as epiphytes (“epi” meaning on, “phyte” meaning plant) that hang from the branches of trees. Some epiphytes like Mistletoe are parasites because their “holdfasts” (modified roots) penetrate into the living tissue of the plant (just below the bark). This is not the case for Spanish Moss or Resurrection Fern that simply hang from branches or are attached to the bark alone.

Green Leaves and Flowers

Taking a closer look at Spanish Moss can reveal cool facts about this true flowering plant. The apparent color of the long, slender leaves of this plant is due to the gray, hair-like scales that cover the underlying green tissue. These scales trap moisture from the air as well as dust that serves as nutrients for this plant. If you look closely among these leaves in early summer, green flowers appear that turn into brown seed pods in late summer. This plant is also noteworthy because it is a member of a group of more tropical plants – the bromeliads, that includes pineapple.

Home for Small Creatures

Like many plants, big or small, Spanish Moss is also home to many creatures that use the structure of the plant as a place to live. A host of small insects and spiders comprise a community of organisms that benefit from the microhabitat provided by Spanish Moss. This is just another example of how plants provide much of the structure of our world beyond their own pieces and parts. So next time you find yourself under a moss-draped oak tree, take a moment to look closer and find the hidden secrets of these plants that decorate our trees.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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