Want to add a tropical feel to your backyard instantaneously? Grow Spanish moss (Tillandsia Usneoides). This eye-catching plant that hangs from trees in the tropics and the southeastern United States can also be grown in other areas of the country. Simply hang a clump of Spanish moss in your outdoor or indoor garden and watch it grow.
Spanish moss is actually not a moss at all. Instead, it’s in the bromeliad (pineapple) family. It is an epiphytic plant that draws moisture from the air and from runoff from the host plant on which it’s growing. You can grow Spanish moss successfully in a dry climate, providing you water it regularly to ensure it stays sufficiently moist.
Savannah Park (Roger Kirby/FreeImages.com)
To have luck growing this conversation starter, keep the following growing advice in mind.
Provide something to grow on. Spanish moss will grow on just about any structure, including another tree or shrub, a fence or a building, trellis, arbor or patio overhang.
Situate the moss so that it gets part-shade. In full sun, Spanish moss may dry out too quickly and may even burn. This is especially the case in dry climates that get high heat, such as areas of the west and southwest. If you grow Spanish moss in deep shade, it is likely to grow very slowly.
Water moss in hot, dry climates. Generally, Spanish moss requires no watering, if you live in a humid, rainy climate, as it will draw the necessary water from the air and surrounding plants. If you live in a hot, dry climate, however, such as California or Arizona, or you are experiencing such weather, you will need to water Spanish moss every day or every other day. Not doing so can cause the moss to go dormant.
Fertilize occasionally. Though Spanish moss generally doesn’t need any feeding, it can speed up growth if you spray the plant monthly in the spring and summer months with a half-strength solution of an organic liquid fertilizer, such as sea kelp or compost tea.
Spread the strands. As Spanish moss grows, if you want it to grow on other plants or in various areas of the yard, simply pull off some strands and hang them wherever you wish—providing the lighting is correct.
Give indoor Spanish moss bright light and moisture. It’s possible to grow Spanish moss indoors, as long as you mist it on a daily basis and put it under full-spectrum lighting or in a bright window.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a garden writer and master gardener, who since 1985 has written for publications such as Organic Gardening, Wildflower, Better Homes and Gardens and The Los Angeles Times. She is the author of seven books, including Reader’s Digest Flower Gardening, Fairy Gardening, The Strawberry Story, and Indoor Gardening the Organic Way, and is the founder of HealthyHouseplants.com.
- Learn how to grow Spanish moss, growing Spanish moss demands care and a few requirements that need to be fulfilled.
- How does Spanish Moss Grow?
- Best Spanish Moss Varieties
- Requirements for Growing Spanish Moss
- Spanish Moss Care
- Beware of Pests
- Spanish Moss
- Spanish Moss and Tree Damage
- Uses For Spanish Moss
- What We Can Help With
- What Is Spanish Moss: Learn About Trees With Spanish Moss
- What is Spanish Moss?
- Spanish Moss Information
- Spanish Moss Removal
- Spanish Moss Overview
- Types of Spanish Moss
- Caring For Spanish Moss
- Pests and Diseases
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Spanish Moss: Tillandsia Usneoides
- The Story Behind Spanish Moss
- Human Use
- The Name
- Spanish moss: Where it came from, why it’s not really moss, and what its used for | Hilton Head Island Packet
- How to Clean Spanish Moss
- 10 Things You Should Know About Spanish Moss
- Description & Propagation of Spanish Moss
- Folklore of Spanish Moss
- Uses for Spanish Moss
- A Free Ebook Just For You!
Learn how to grow Spanish moss, growing Spanish moss demands care and a few requirements that need to be fulfilled.
USDA Zones: 7-11
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Common Names: Spanish moss, Tree Hair, Old Man’s Beard, Kali’s Hair, Spanish Beard
How does Spanish Moss Grow?
Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is not a moss but a flowering plant that grows over trees, however, it doesn’t leach nutrients from them. It is native in North, Central and South America and belongs to the family of Bromeliads (Bromeliaceae), the family of pineapples. It is epiphytic. Epiphytes (air plants) are those that sit or grow on other plants, but they do not use the energy of host plant or feed on them.
In its natural habitat, it colonized not only on trees but also hangs on power lines, wires or stones. Spanish moss shoots, depending on the form can have different thicknesses are several meters long. Its small flowers are yellowish-green. Like other air plants, it gets water and nutrients from particles in the air.
Most often it is propagated naturally when the tiny pieces of its stems and plantlets spread during rainy or windy weather. In your garden, you can propagate it from division by separating side shoots and plantlets.
To germinate it from seeds, sow them in a substrate with good drainage and put that in a bright location. Remember, humidity promotes germination but once germinated, frequent and regular watering can cause rotting of young plants. Growing Spanish moss from seeds is a slow process. In months it only reaches 1 cm in height.
Best Spanish Moss Varieties
Munro’s Filiformis: Native to Paraguay it’s also known as a “Silver Ghost.” The greenish grey colores tendril give this variety a spooky look. Flowers are tinged green.
Maurice’s Robusta: Very popular in Australia this cultivar originates from Mexico. The leaves are thicker and greyish as compared to “Silver ghost.”
Spanish Gold: Native to South America it’s gaining popularity very quickly in other parts. The greyish-green leaves are adorned with bright yellow flowers.
Tight and Curly: As the name suggests the leaves of this plant are tightly curled. You’ll find it most commonly in California.
Odin’s Genuina: The overall beauty of this plant is enhanced by its yellowish brown flowers. Guatemala and Mexico are from where it originated.
Requirements for Growing Spanish Moss
Overall Spanish moss prefers bright but not direct light and good air circulation. Choose a location that is exposed to light morning and evening sun on a tree or tall shrub.
During summer or if you’re growing it in tropics, must remember that you never place it in proximity to a hot window or wall otherwise the heat will transfer and might be detrimental for Spanish moss.
NOTE: If the moss starts to turn black it’s a sign of too much direct exposure to the sun. Protect the plant before it dies!
Avoid using chlorinated water, use purified, distilled or rainwater. Keep the Spanish moss moist all the time in a hot and dry climate. Otherwise, it will become dormant. Give a good soaking to Spanish moss by pouring water over the leaves when they become dry. In humid and rainy conditions, spray it with water regularly but only when it seems dry. Frequent watering when it is already moist can be detrimental.
Spanish Moss Care
Spanish moss care is slightly tricky, but once you understand it, it is simple.
Humidity is an important factor, especially when you’re growing Spanish moss indoors. To avoid it from drying out of the middle or rear drives, spray it from all sides.
Spanish moss doesn’t need fertilizer instead it is itself used as a fertilizer. However, if it is growing poorly or discoloring, spray it with compost tea diluted half with water.
Check out this fertilizer recipe with Spanish moss as an active ingredient!
Simply snip off the ends using a sharp tool to prune it back lengthwise. Avoid over pruning as it results in side-shoot formation.
In cooler zones, Spanish moss dies in winter as it can’t tolerate temperature below 50 F (10 C) for a long time. However, Spanish moss can tolerate temperature down to 22 F (-5 C). To overwinter it, keep the Spanish moss indoors, hanging near the sunny window at a temperature around 50 to 70 Degrees F (10 and 21 C).
In summer provide it a light shade and increase watering. Soaking the plant also benefits extensively in hot summers.
Beware of Pests
It’s not Spanish moss we are worried about it’s you! Spanish moss itself does not hold nutrients for pests and is hardy when it comes to diseases. But many creatures such as rat snakes, jumping spiders, chiggers and bats can reside in Spanish moss. So before you try to tackle it always wear protective gloves and layers.
Hanging off trees and landscape plants, Spanish moss is a familiar part of Florida’s environment. Despite its name, Spanish moss is not a moss but a bromeliad—a perennial herb in the pineapple family.
Most bromeliads, including Spanish moss, are epiphytes. Epiphytes grow on other plants, but do not rely on them for nutrients. They take nutrients from the air and debris that collects on the plant. Spanish moss has permeable scales that “catch” moisture and nutrients.
Spanish moss prefers moist environments, but its ability to trap water lets it survive dry periods. The plant can also go dormant until moisture conditions improveSpanish moss does not have any roots. It attaches to substrates by wrapping its stems around a surface. Also, it does not need roots for water and nutrient uptake, since all parts of Spanish moss have that ability.Spanish moss is commonly found on oak and cypress trees, but can grow on other plants as well.
Spanish Moss and Tree Damage
Many homeowners think that Spanish moss kills their trees. This is not the case because the moss is not parasitic. The only thing Spanish moss uses trees for is support.
If you observe tree decline after heavy infestations of Spanish moss, the trees are usually declining because of a different factor. In fact, tree decline can cause Spanish moss growth as the canopy thins and lets in more sunlight for the moss to grow.
Heavy moss on a tree can shade leaves and slow growth, but healthy trees will grow faster than the moss. Be aware that the moss can also weigh down and sometimes break branches.
If you want to remove Spanish moss, have an arborist remove it by hand. However, it will grow back after a while.
Uses For Spanish Moss
Spanish moss used to be harvested for stuffing material in automobile seats, furniture, mattresses, and even insulation in homes. Today it is sometimes used for stuffing or packing material, but it is more widely used for floral arrangements and mulch.
Songbirds build nests with the moss, and many other species use moss clumps for shelter, including bats, reptiles, and amphibians.
Be aware that chiggers are common in Spanish moss and may cause a rash on the skin if the moss is handled.
Adapted and excerpted from:
B. Larson, et al, Florida’s Native Bromeliads (CIR 1466), Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation (rev. 09/2009).
“Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides),” Florida 4-H Forest Ecology (accessed 04/2011).
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What Is Spanish Moss: Learn About Trees With Spanish Moss
Often seen growing in trees in southern regions, Spanish moss is normally viewed as a bad thing. Oh contraire. Trees with Spanish moss can actually be welcome additions by adding something different to the landscape. That being said, there are still those who would prefer to get rid of it. So what is Spanish moss and is Spanish moss removal for you? Continue reading to learn more about Spanish moss and then decide for yourself.
What is Spanish Moss?
What is Spanish moss anyway? Spanish moss is an epiphytic plant that makes its own food from nutrients and moisture that it captures from the air and absorbs from surface cracks and crevices on the host plant. It clings to the supporting tree by wrapping itself around the branches.
So will Spanish moss kill a tree? Spanish moss is sometimes blamed for problems it didn’t cause. Spanish moss takes no nourishment or moisture from trees, and only uses them for protection and support. Therefore, since it doesn’t obtain nourishment from the host plant, it does little or no harm. In fact, a heavy growth of Spanish moss is often seen on trees that are declining in health, but it is not responsible for the decline, though is can, however, strain branches and make them weaker.
Spanish Moss Information
Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is not a true moss, but is a member of the bromeliad family along with tropical plants, such as pineapples. Trees with Spanish moss are a graceful and elegant sight. The tiny blue-green flowers are hard to see, but they give off a fragrance that is most noticeable at night. The plant drapes from the limbs of trees in masses that may be as much as 20 feet long.
Several species of songbirds use Spanish moss as nesting materials, and some build their nests in the clumps. Bats may also live in clumps of Spanish moss, and reptiles and amphibians use the plant as a hiding place. Unfortunately, if you experience severe itching after handling Spanish moss, you’ve discovered chiggers, or redbugs, which also live in the plant.
Spanish Moss Removal
There is no chemical treatment to aid in Spanish moss removal, though herbicide sprays may be applied. The best way to remove Spanish moss is by hand. When the moss is growing on a tall tree, however, this can be a dangerous task and best left to a professional arborist.
Even after thorough removal, Spanish moss grows back after a few years. You can reduce the growth rate of Spanish moss by providing the host tree with proper fertilization and watering.
But instead of attempting a frustrating and ultimately futile attempt to remove the moss, why not try to enjoy the way this mysterious and graceful plant enhances the garden.
Everyone knows what Spanish moss is. It’s that stuff that gently sways in the breeze as it drapes over the branches of an old oak tree in the South, right? But what really is Spanish moss? Is it actually Spanish? Is it actually a moss — or something else entirely? Today we’re going to take an in-depth look at the most commonly-grown air plant in the United States and find out all about its history, growth habits, and a few common uses for its foliage.
Bunch of Spanish Moss. Source: Bubba73
The name “Spanish moss” actually originated as “Spanish beard”. Native American tribal people called it “itla-okla”, which meant “tree hair”. Some French thought that it resembled a conquistador’s long beard and began calling it “Barbe Espagnol”, or Spanish beard. While the Spaniards retaliated by referring to it as “Cabello Frances”, or French Hair, it never caught on.
Over time, Spanish beard became Spanish moss, what it’s most commonly known as today. The Polynesians occasionally refer to Spanish moss as “Kali’s hair”, and throughout its natural environment it’s still called “tree hair”, simply because it resembles hair so much!
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Spanish Moss Overview
|Common Name(s)||Spanish moss, Old Man’s Beard, Spanish Beard, Tree Hair, Kali’s Hair|
|Scientific Name||Tillandsia Usneoides|
|Origin||Southern U.S., Central & South America, other tropical & subtropical areas|
|Height||Can reach lengths of 20-25 feet|
|Water||Regular watering preferred|
|Humidity||High humidity preferred|
|Soil||Does not require soil|
|Fertilizer||Generally does not require fertilizer|
|Propagation||Cuttings of offshoots or seed|
|Pests||Can house pests, but is not typically fed on by pests|
Types of Spanish Moss
One of the most notable things about Spanish moss is that it’s not even a moss at all — this Tillandsia is a bromeliad, and a relative of the pineapple. It’s also an epiphyte, which means it lacks normal roots and instead takes in its nutrition and moisture through its foliage.
Tillandsia usneoides ‘Munro’s Filiformis’, ‘Silver Ghost’, ‘El Finito’
Tillandsia usneoides ‘Munros Filiformis’. Source: Maarten van der Meer
This particular variety is native to Paraguay, but is commonly sold as ‘Silver Ghost’. It has very fine and smooth tendril-like leaves which have a distinctive grey-green shade. It produces a greenish-tinged flower.
Tillandsia usneoides ‘Maurice’s Robusta’
Compared to the Silver Ghost variety, Maurice’s Robusta has far thicker leaves. It also tends to be a grey-green color, but leans more towards the greyish side unless freshly watered. A native of Mexico, Maurice’s Robusta has become quite popular in Australia. Its flowers when it blooms tend towards a yellow or yellow-green hue.
Tillandsia usneoides ‘Odin’s Genuina’
Tillandsia ‘Odins Genuina’. Source: Maarten van der Meer
Originally from Guatemala and Mexico, Odin’s Genuina is quite popular in Europe. It has fine silver leaves that range 4-6 centimeters in length. The flowers are more of a yellow-brown shade when it blooms.
Tillandsia usneoides ‘Spanish Gold’
Brilliant yellow tiny flowers and slender grey-green foliage are the highlights of the Spanish Gold varietal. With its origins in South America, it’s become widely cultivated elsewhere, and is quite popular throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Tillandsia usneoides ‘Tight and Curly’
This Spanish moss lives up to its name! Slender silver leaves that curl tightly together are the hallmark of this varietal. This particular version is often grown in California gardens.
This is an interesting hybrid form of Spanish moss. It’s theorized that it was cross-pollinated with Tillandsia mallemontii to produce a form of Spanish moss which bloomed light purple against silvery foliage.
This is a hybrid of Spanish moss and “ball moss”, also known as Tillandsia recurvata. Silvery-green slender leaves form a dense clump that falls into the dwarf range of Tillandsias.
Tillandsia ‘Old Man’s Gold’
One more hybrid that’s notable is Old Man’s Gold, a blend of Tillandsia usneoides with Tillandsia crocata. It’s known for its large yellowish flowers on silvery-green strands of foliage, but also tends more to the dwarf size rather than a more typical usneoides.
Caring For Spanish Moss
Overall, Spanish moss is incredibly easy to deal with. It grows wild all over the southeastern US, after all! There are a few things that you can do to improve the longevity of your air-loving old man’s beard, though. Here’s a few recommendations.
This plant likes indirect, but bright lighting most of the time. That’s why Spanish moss is so prevalent on tree branches… there’s plenty of ambient light around, but it’s protected from the sun’s direct rays that dry it out too quickly. Ideally, place your Spanish moss in a location where it can benefit from regular light, but won’t be hit by the powerful rays of the sun from noon through late afternoon. A little morning light won’t hurt it generally, but try to avoid too much direct sun, as it can cause the moss to turn black and to die off.
Spanish moss under 20x magification. Source: Mark Smith1989
Spanish moss likes water and humidity. It also doesn’t like to be wet for long, like most other bromeliads. Most recommendations are to water only when the plant is completely dry, and to give it a good soaking from the top when it needs it. Indoors, you can place a bucket overtop your Spanish moss and then pour cups full of water over the plant until it’s dripping. Outdoors, you can skip the bucket and just dampen it with a hose. Don’t water it again until it’s completely and totally dry. You can occasionally mist it between the soakings if you feel it needs it.
It’s advised to use distilled water or rainwater to water your Spanish moss whenever possible. Too much chlorine is a major problem for this plant and may kill it.
Most varieties of Tillandsia usneoides will acquire a greenish tinge when freshly watered, but they rapidly go back to a grey-green or silvery exterior as they dry out. Ideally, you want your plant to be mostly dry on the exterior within 20-30 minutes of being watered, and avoid overwatering it. Too much water can cause rot.
Tillandsia usneoides, like other epiphytic plants, doesn’t actually need soil. It prefers to grow on living trees, although some people have successfully cultivated it using old oak or cypress branches. Others have formed wire frames from which to hang their Spanish moss. However, it needs to hang straight down from whatever it’s resting on. It does not do well if it bundles up into a mass!
What Spanish moss prefers to soil is good airflow. It needs to be able to sway in the breeze.
While it hasn’t been established exactly what it is about oak and cypress that makes those trees perfect environments, it’s widely assumed that it has to do with the lack of resinous sap and with their shady canopies. Both oaks and cypress trees tend to produce large amounts of shade, which makes them perfect for Tillandsia to live in.
Cultivators of Spanish moss are split on whether it’s good to fertilize it or not. If you do decide to fertilize yours, it’s best to use a super-diluted form of an orchid or bromeliad fertilizer. Often, it doesn’t need fertilizer at all. If you have any question as to the strength of a fertilizer, it might be wise to start another couple of cuttings and get them established so that you can test out fertilizers on them. But with this plant, less is more – if you are at all in doubt, don’t fertilize your plant.
Like most other bromeliads, Spanish moss is most often cultivated by offshoots. It can grow to reach lengths of nearly 20 feet, and typically side shoots are cut to start a new plant from rather than from the main stem. You can simply trim off one of the side shoots and start treating it as if it were a new plant, and most of the time it will flourish on its own.
You can actually grow Spanish moss from seed as well. However, to harvest seed from Spanish moss, you have to be there at exactly the right time. It is fluffy and easily carried away on the wind like dandelion seed is, which means that the very few seeds each flower produces are whisked away on the breeze. It’s far easier to just start a plant from an existing offshoot.
If you are starting a new Spanish moss cutting, prepare what it’s going to hang from first. Are you going to use a wire frame, an old tree branch, or something else? Prepare that initially, then drape your cutting overtop and water it. Keep an eye on it and water again once it’s completely dry to encourage its further growth.
You can trim Spanish moss to length simply by snipping off the ends, but try to avoid doing that often as it tends to cause more side shoots to form. It’s a slow grower, but it does grow and it does spread over time.
Pests and Diseases
Spanish Moss- Closeup. Source
Interestingly enough, Spanish moss does not appear to have any natural predators. However, it frequently houses all manner of wildlife.
There is a variety of spider named Pelegrina tillandsia Kaston which is reputed to live in Tillandsia usneoides, but it is harmless to humans. Other pests which are said to make their home in Spanish moss include chiggers, spider mites, some species of butterfly, and boll weevils. In the home, you can use a typical insecticidal or miticidal spray or organic alternative to keep the smaller pests out of your moss.
Once Spanish moss has died and fallen to the ground, frogs tend to make homes in it. Birds are also known to harvest Spanish moss to line their nests, both living and dead, so if you’re starting a batch of moss outside, you may want to protect it from bird-theft until it’s grown enough to handle it. Some species of bat may also use Spanish moss for daytime shelter.
It’s also a very disease-free plant on the whole, only being susceptible to rot if it’s left in a large quantity of water for too long. Since it generally hangs to grow, this is unlikely unless the plant has fallen off of its perch somehow.
Frequently Asked Questions
Shot of a Spanish moss flower. Source
Q: What has Spanish moss been used for?
A: Over time, Spanish moss has been used for clothing, as padding in pillows and mattresses, and even as part of swamp coolers. It has no nutritious value, so it’s not commonly used as livestock fodder. It’s also a favorite in dried floral arrangements or as part of craft projects because of its unique look.
Q: Does Spanish moss feed on my trees or other plants?
A: Actually, no. Spanish moss has no roots that go into the tree’s surface, nor anything which could poison the tree it’s hanging on. However, as it grows, it can start shading lower leaves or branches of the tree by accident and can lower the tree’s ability to photosynthesize light. For this reason, it’s recommended to thin out the Spanish moss on your trees occasionally when it starts to form very thick, light-blocking mats.
Q: Is Spanish moss poisonous to my pets?
A: Nope! It’s safe around your pets. However, if you have pet birds who have free range in your house, your Spanish moss may end up worked into their nest if you aren’t attentive.
Overall, Spanish moss is a very popular bromeliad, both for its ease in care and for its beauty when it’s hanging on trees. But it’s also great as an indoor plant, and with a little finesse can provide a natural curtain of foliage. Are you inspired to try growing your own tree hair?
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Spanish Moss: Tillandsia Usneoides
Looking to purchase live Spanish Moss strands? We offer them as individual strands or in packs of 6 or more on our Wholesale Page.
Spanish Moss is probably the most common Air Plant in the United States. In fact, I’m sure you’ve probably stumbled upon it… Think of that quintessential southern city. Is it Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, or perhaps even the home of Air Plant Supply Co., St. Augustine, Florida. One of the many ecological ties between these cities are the mounds of Spanish Moss among the live oaks and cypress in these communities’ parks, squares, and cemeteries.
Spanish moss is a specific species of air plant. The botanical name is Tillandsia Usneoides. All the air plants that we sell on our site are in the genus Tillandsia. A broader definitions which encompasses air plants are epiphytes, plants that derive sustenance from the surrounding air. Epipytes are not parasitic or directly harmful to their host. The rely on trees or other structures for support only.
However, they can inadvertently cause problems to the tree host. This is occasionally seen on trees with thick growths of Spanish Moss. If too much moss grows on a tree, then this can restrict the amount of sunlight that the leaves of the host tree receive. Spanish moss can also add considerable weight when wet and increase the trees surface area. The increased surface area can prove detrimental during high windstorms of hurricanes. Spanish Moss seems to prefer Southern Live Oaks and the Bald Cypress over most other trees. This is due primarily to the mineral leaching that occurs in these species. This leaching process provides nutrients that the moss finds beneficial for growth.
Spanish Moss is relatively easy to grow. The most common ways are by division, however there is natural propagation that also occurs from seed. In the springtime, after sending out tiny, inconspicuous blooms, thousands of wispy seeds can depart a single clump, blown about to find other host tree branches. However, you will likely receive your Spanish Moss as a strand or division. These will happily grow as long as they are kept in a warm area, have good air circulation and water is provided. The surrounding temperature should be sixty degrees or higher. Partial sun is preferable. Direct hot sun will dry the moss, especially in indoor environments. Watering Spanish Moss is done like other species of air plants, through water baths or misting.
In northern climates Spanish Moss can be moved outdoors during the warm season. However, if placed too early in the Spring, birds may steal it away as an exotic, cozy nesting material.
The uses for Spanish Moss are varied. It can be used as mulch, a packing material, insulation or for arts and crafts. If commercially grown, it can be used as a stuffing for mattresses or furniture. During the first half of the twentieth century, moss was even used as packing for automobile upholstery. Moss picked directly from trees should not be used for stuffing or bedding as they may contain pests such as chiggers or red bugs. These insects may be removed by microwaving or boiling the moss for several minutes, however this will kill the plant.
October 17, 2018
Spanish moss is such a beautiful plant. I was very happy when I read that it won’t harm the host and that can grow indoors.
I now have 2 strands. One indoors, one outdoors. I feel nervous for the out one because I just placed it and my back patio has frogs, lizards and a band of annoying ducks that love to roam… I put it with two clips, so I hope they work as deterrent
June 06, 2017
Please tell me how to water spanish moss indoors, year round. Ive tried a few times already, and it gets so stiff and crunchy that it doesnt even look like moss, in no time at all
Mel from Louisiana
July 27, 2016
I’m curious where you harvest your spanish moss that is for sale on your site. Is it grown wild outdoor, or do you have a controlled climate?
July 08, 2016
Nice article! I’m able to grow Spanish moss here in Albuquerque at about 4900 feet altitude, with low humidity (unless it is raining, which is rare at this time) and hot (high +95F) summer days. My clumps are hanging in a north-facing porch that gets bright light but rarely any direct sun. I soak it in a bucket of water ever 3-4 days and mist it other days. It grows so well I wish birds would discover it and take some for nests! In the winter (starting mid September when nighttime temps are below 55 or so) I bring all outdoor tillandsias in and put them under grow lights or in a south-facing window for the next 6 months or so. They’re doing okay or I would buy more from you 🙂
July 07, 2016
I did not know that Spanish moss was an air plant. Thanks for the info!
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If you live in or have ever visited parts of the Deep South, you will likely be familiar with the gray, hairlike strands dangling from many of the trees. This eerie plant is Spanish moss. Known as “itla-okla,” or “tree hair” by indigenous Americans, Spanish moss grows on other trees to thrive. Despite its need for a host, Spanish moss is not a parasite—it is an epiphyte. The plant does not send roots into the host tree and it does not draw nutrients from the tree. Learn more about air plants.
Despite its name, Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor moss; Spanish moss is native to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of the southern United States from Texas to Virginia. It is considered a flowering plant, a member of the same family as pineapples and succulents. The plant is made up of slim stems with scaled leaves that grow to create a hanging structure. Although the plant produces brown, green, or yellow flowers, they are difficult to spot.
Growing Conditions for Spanish Moss
The biggest requirement Spanish moss needs in order to grow as an aerial plant is a tree or shrub to grow from. Spanish moss also needs the warm humidity of a tropical or subtropical climate to thrive. Because of its climate preferences, Spanish moss grows best in zones seven through 11. It needs bright but not direct sunlight.
The best way to accommodate Spanish moss is to make sure that it gets morning and evening sun. The plant also needs good air circulation, as it receives all of its nutrients from the air. When growing Spanish moss, make sure to keep it away from hot windows or walls, as the plant may absorb the heat and dry out or even burn.
When growing Spanish moss indoors, make sure that it has something to grow on, such as driftwood, rocks, or other decorative items. Make sure to place Spanish moss near a window—but not where it will be exposed to direct sunlight during the summer. Like outdoor Spanish moss, growing the plant too close to a hot window or wall will have negative effects on the plant’s growth.
How to Start Spanish Moss
The easiest way to plant Spanish moss in your garden is to propagate it through division, separating the different side shoots and plantlets. If you live in the Deep South or in Spanish moss’s other native areas, it should be easy to find a plant in the wild to take a cutting from. If not, you can purchase live Spanish moss from specialty stores or online.
To grow Spanish moss from seeds is a slow process requiring a lot of patience. It can take months for the Spanish moss to grow a single centimeter. You can sow Spanish moss seeds in a substrate with good drainage and put them in a sunny windowsill so they can grow. Humidity will help the seeds germinate, but once they are germinated, too much humidity may cause the sprouts to rot.
Care of Spanish Moss
When watering Spanish moss, make sure to use purified, distilled, or rainwater. Do not use chlorinated water. Keep Spanish moss moist as much as possible, so mist the plant whenever it is dry. Avoid misting if the plant is already damp, as too much moisture is not good for the plant either.
Humidity is also very important for the Spanish moss plant’s survival as an outdoor plant. To keep it from drying out, make sure to water it on all sides. Because the plant uses itself as fertilizer, it does not typically need to be fertilized. However, if the plant looks discolored or is growing poorly, spray it with a compost tea made with one part compost and one part water.
If you are growing Spanish moss indoors, then humidity is a key factor in its care in this environment, too. Like when growing the plant outdoors, make sure to water it on all sides to keep it from drying out. Indoors, these plants might need a little extra help, as there are fewer available nutrients to get from the air. Use a high-phosphorus fertilizer mixed at half the usual strength.
Pests and Diseases of Spanish Moss
There aren’t many pests that affect Spanish moss because it has little nutritional value for them. However, many creatures like to call this plant their home. Some of these creatures include rat snakes, bats, jumping spiders, and chiggers. Because of this, you must be careful when harvesting Spanish moss. Wear gloves and layers to protect your skin.
Spanish moss is a hardy plant and is not susceptible to disease. Spanish moss itself only becomes a problem for other plants if it grows thick enough to block the leaves of the host plant. If this happens, then the growth of the host plant might be stunted.
Harvesting Spanish Moss for Decoration
Spanish moss cannot be used for eating by people or animals, as it has essentially no nutritional value. Commercially, Spanish moss is used in arts and crafts and as a bedding for flower gardens. To harvest your own Spanish moss, dress in protective clothing and pull the Spanish moss down from the tree.
Spread the strands apart, pick any visible debris out, and wash with hot, soapy water. Rinse all the soapy water away from the strands, and double-check for debris. Allow the Spanish moss to dry completely before using it in plant beds or hanging it as a decoration in your home.
Spanish Moss Varieties to Grow in Your Home Garden
There are several types of Spanish moss and its hybrids that do well in home gardens. The following varieties are some of the more popular ones.
Maurice’s Robusta : This variety of Spanish moss has leaves that are thicker than the following varieties. It is a grayish-green color, though it tends to be more gray unless freshly watered. The flowers range from yellow to yellowish-green.
Odin’s Genuina: This unique variety of Spanish moss is originally from Guatemala and Mexico. It has very fine silver leaves and yellowish-brown flowers.
Silver Ghost: This species is native to Paraguay. Its leaves are fine, smooth tendrils that are a greenish-gray color. The flowers are also greenish.
Tight and Curly: Like its name, this variety of Spanish moss has slim silver leaves that are tightly curled. This type of Spanish moss can most often be found in California.
To learn more about growing Spanish moss, check out this video by Brad’s Greenhouse and Gardening.
Author Saffyre Falkenberg began gardening with her grandmother as a child in Southern California. She continues to keep plants in her apartment in Texas and has a special love for succulents.
Learn more about Spanish Moss
Balcony Web writes about Spanish Moss.
Spanish Moss indoors
The Story Behind Spanish Moss
Author: Celeste Booth
Care and Culture, Classification
If you live in or have visited the southern regions of the United States, Central America or South America you have seen the thick, drooping, grey “hair” that hangs from so many grand trees in the region. Locally know as “Spanish Moss” this plant has no relation to the moss family. In fact, Spanish moss is a bromeliad. It is a tiny epiphyte that clings to itself as it dangles from tree limbs, gulping moisture from the air.
Spanish moss belongs to the Tillandsia genus of bromeliads. However, unlike most epiphytic Tillandsia which have roots that act as anchors, Spanish moss does not have any roots at all. Many epiphytes have roots that anchor them to their host tree. Instead, Spanish moss uses tiny scales on its leaves and its curved structure to cling to its host tree. Each individual Tillandsia usneoides is at most 6 cm long and 1 mm wide. The individual plants cling to one another creating huge structures that hang from trees. The flowers on each plant are minuscule, however, on large growths of spanish moss they can create a noticeable fragrance at night, during late spring and early summer.
-Spanish Moss can be quite beautiful.
Spanish moss reproduces in two ways: through seed and, like many other bromeliads, by producing pups. Pups are small copies of the plant that grow from an original. Spanish moss spreads to new locations through various methods. Seeds are structured so that they are easily caught by the wind and land in the bark of new trees. Also, portions of growing Spanish moss are carried off by the wind or birds to a new tree. Once there the plant will continue to propagate vegetatively. Spanish moss tends to prefer two common southern trees: live oaks and bald cypress. It will, however, grow on most trees if the conditions are right. Spanish moss is not parasitic and therefore does not harm the trees directly. The plant obtains its own nutrients. But large growths of Spanish moss can block out the sun and hinder photosynthesis in the leaves of host tree occasionally causing minor damage. Spanish moss can hold significant amounts of water and becomes very heavy when wet. This can also lead to damage and broken limbs.
Spanish moss prefers warm climates with high humidity. In the United States, Spanish moss ranges from eastern Virginia to the south and west to Texas. Humidity and rain are essential for the plant to be able to grow. Spanish moss has special scales found on its leaves,called trichomes that help it take in water and other nutrients. Nutrients are absorbed from the air and even at times from the matter found on the surfaces of the leaves that the spanish moss covers. Because it so easily absorbs material from the air, Spanish moss is susceptible to damage from pollution. It can also be tested to identify what pollutants are found in a specific area.
-Spanish Moss near a Southern swamp.
Spanish moss is very important for biodiversity. Its large mats that drip from trees harbor a great variety of insects, birds, three species of bats, frogs, lizards, snakes and more. Yellow-throated warblers and northern parulas make their nests within mats of Spanish moss during the spring and summer. There is one species of spider that can only be found living in Spanish moss. It is called Pelegrina tillandsia, named after its home. Spanish moss can sometimes house chiggers especially when close to the ground so take extra care when handling.
Spanish moss has a variety of human uses and at one time was harvested and ginned commercially. The peak of the commercial harvest of Spanish moss may have come in the late 1930s. Through a specific curing and ginning process the outer grey bark was removed and the remaining filaments were used for upholstery in cars, furniture and mattresses. The mattresses were well known for being exceptionally cool. The grey bark was often used for mulch as well. It was harvested for commercial use until 1970 when synthetic fibers made its use obsolete. Smaller portions of Spanish moss are still harvested primarily for craft work and mulch. It is also occasionally used as bulk feed for livestock, but contains very little nutrients. Sterilized moss can be purchased at garden centers, but you can also harvest it yourself. If you choose to harvest Spanish moss for indoor crafts or even for mulch you will want to cure it in the oven at a low temperature for at least a half hour. For smaller amounts you can microwave it. This will kill any bugs, fungus or mold that will be found in the moss. Be sure to inspect the moss for large wildlife such as frogs or lizards before heating. Spanish moss can also be found in craft stores for use on wreathes and small indoor or silk flower arrangements.
Spanish moss has had a number of different names as various settlers and explorers have encountered the mystical plant. The French called it “Spanish beard” while the Spanish called the plant “French hair.” It has also been known as “graybeard” and “tree hair.” “Spanish moss” derived from the original “Spanish beard” is the name that has stuck and is most commonly used today.
There are a few legends behind Spanish moss and how it got its name. One legend, as told in a document from Beaufort county library, is about a Spanish explorer Gorez Goz. The story claims that Gorez Goz bought a native maiden. She was afraid of him and so she ran away. As he pursued her she climbed a tree and dove into the water. Goz followed her but became entangled in the tree and died there. But his “grey beard” continues to grow and spread throughout the trees.
Spanish moss can be cultivated in a green house. The tiny plants would be difficult to grow in a home because of the humidity and heat they require. Their ideal temperature is around 70 degrees. They will survive down to 22 degrees, but require at least 300 frost free days in a year. To start Spanish moss simply attach a plantling to a slab of bark. They are relatively slow growing and are not likely to flower in cultivation. Misting the plants once a week should provide enough moisture for the plants to grow.
If you have Spanish moss growing in trees on your property you may want to thin the moss if it becomes too thick. This will help prevent the tree from being deprived of needed sunshine and nutrients.
The world of bromeliads is vast and diverse. Spanish moss is just one example of a unique bromeliad. Bromeliads such as Spanish moss are incredibly important for biodiversity by creating habitats for all kinds of of species. To protect these species it is necessary to be informed about and respect the various plants, animals and insects that make up significant ecosystems in southern regions.
Spanish moss: Where it came from, why it’s not really moss, and what its used for | Hilton Head Island Packet
Few sights are more evocative of the South than a spreading live oak tree festooned with Spanish moss — “hanging down from the limbs like long gray beards,” as Mark Twain wrote in Huckleberry Finn.
Despite its common name, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) isn’t a moss at all, but a flowering plant in the pineapple family.
And contrary to popular belief, Spanish moss isn’t a parasite. Dense garlands of this grayish-green plant cause little to no damage to a tree, aside from occasionally weighing down older branches during wet weather and causing them to break and fall.
An epiphyte (“air plant”), Spanish moss uses tree branches for support. Its wiry, branching, rootless stems–up to 15-20 feet long–bear tiny leaves with numerous overlapping scales. The scales open outward when it rains, allowing the plant to soak up moisture. During droughts, the scales retract.
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Spanish moss makes its own food via photosynthesis and absorbs calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and other minerals leached out in rainwater from the tree’s leaves.
In late spring, the plant produces nondescript yellowish-green flowers, followed by capsules that release tiny wind-dispersed seeds.
Spanish moss sometimes grows on bald cypress, sweet gum, and a few other trees, but in the Lowcountry it clearly favors live oaks. The deep cracks and furrows of oak bark provide places for seeds or displaced stem fragments to lodge and grow.
Spanish moss is eaten by deer and wild turkey, and it’s used as nesting material by egrets, mockingbirds, warblers, owls, and squirrels. It shelters a host of other animals, from spiders and insects to snakes, anoles, tree frogs, and bats.
Although chiggers are widely assumed to be abundant in Spanish moss, especially in clumps that have fallen to the ground, several scientific studies suggest they’re not common inhabitants.
Spanish moss has been the subject of colorful stories and legends, giving rise to the “Spanish” part of its common name — perhaps a reference to the long beards of early Spanish explorers.
Native Americans and early colonists used the plant for kindling and as caulking material for houses.
Later, during the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, commercial mills in Louisiana and Florida harvested Spanish moss for use as high-quality stuffing in mattresses and car seats. A single large oak tree might yield a ton of Spanish moss along with associated debris. The curing process took several months and involved stripping off the outer greenish covering of the stem to reveal a black, horsehair-like core in the center.
Synthetic fibers ultimately replaced Spanish moss in the upholstery industry, but the plant is still used today by florists as packing material and mulch.
Vicky McMillan, a retired biologist formerly at Colgate University, lives on Hilton Head Island.
How to Clean Spanish Moss
stove – kitchen interiors image by Gina Smith from Fotolia.com
Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoide) is a bromeliad that grows on trees and is particularly common in the southeast United States. It is often used in homemade crafts, such as wreaths, floral displays and woven fabrics. Because Spanish moss comes from the outdoors, it must be cleaned prior to using. If you have harvested fresh moss, you must get rid of any bugs or other critters first. While you can shake many of these pests away, you will still need to kill any unseen ones to prevent an infestation, especially if the moss is going to be used indoors.
Wash freshly harvested Spanish moss outdoors in a bucket of soapy water. This method is good if you are using your Spanish moss outdoors. Mix about 1 tsp. of dish detergent for every gallon of water. Separate the moss into manageable sections and swish it in the soapy water. Then rinse it in a bucket of clean water and lay it out to dry in the sun. Do this on a table, over the clothesline or another similar place that is free of bugs.
Boil freshly harvested Spanish moss if you are using it indoors. Again, separate the moss into manageable pieces and boil it for about one to two minutes. Lay the moss out on your counter to dry. This process emits a foul odor, so open the windows prior to boiling the moss.
Mist Spanish moss lightly with water a half-hour before using it. This applies to moss that has already been cleaned and freed of bugs. Misting will help the Spanish moss from collecting dust after you have made your craft.
Dust Spanish moss gently with a feather duster, as necessary. You can also use a fan to help remove some of the dust that may have collected.
10 Things You Should Know About Spanish Moss
An image of beautiful Spanish moss hanging from majestic trees instantly reminds us of sultry summer days in the South. Prettier than kudzu, less formal than a palm tree, it is a symbol of nature at its most relaxed. But how much do you really know about Spanish moss?
1. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is not a moss at all. It is a bromeliad, which means it is in the same taxonomic family as pineapples and succulent house plants.
Infrogmation of New Orleans via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
2. Spanish moss isn’t from Spain, either. It’s native to Mexico, Central America, South America, the U.S., and the Caribbean. In the U.S., it grows from Texas to Virginia, staying in the moister areas of the South. Its preferred habitat is a healthy tree in tropical swampland.
Va. Dept. of Conservation & Recreation via Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
3. Spanish moss was given its name by French explorers. Native Americans told them the plant was called Itla-okla, which meant “tree hair.” The French were reminded of the Spanish conquistadors’ long beards, so they called it Barbe Espagnol, or “Spanish Beard.” The Spaniards got back at them by calling the plant Cabello Francés, or “French Hair.” The French name won out, and as time went by Spanish Beard changed to Spanish moss.
Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service viaWikimedia Commons// Public Domain
4. Several tale tales are told of Spanish moss, like the one about Gorez Goz. According to the Beaufort County Library,
Gorez Goz was a bearded brute who bought a beautiful Indian maiden for a yard of braid and a mere bar of soap. The mere sight of the Spaniard so frightened the girl that she ran away from him. Gorez Goz chased right behind her, until at last he climbed up after her to the top of a tree. The maiden dove into the water and escaped, but Gorez Goz’s beard got hopelessly entangled in the tree’s branches. There he died, but we can still see his “greybeard” on trees throughout the Lowcountry—as the Spanish moss out on the limbs.
Jessica Cobb via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
5. Although Spanish moss grows on trees, it is not a parasite . It doesn’t put down roots in the tree it grows on, nor does it take nutrients from it. The plant thrives on rain and fog, sunlight, and airborne or waterborne dust and debris.
Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
6. The surface of the Spanish moss plant is covered with tiny gray scales, which trap water until the plant can absorb it. The plant’s tissues can hold more water than the plant needs, to keep it going through dry periods. When the tissues plump up after a rain, Spanish moss appears more green. As the water is used, it returns to a gray hue.
Pollinator via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
7. The seeds of the moss have feathery appendages like dandelion seeds. This allows them to float through the air until they land on a good spot to grow: another tree.
Virginia State Parks staff viaWikimedia Commons// CC BY 2.0
8. Spanish moss is more likely to propagate by fragmented pieces of plant called festoons. When a festoon is broken off and carried off by wind or birds (using it for nest material), it will begin to grow into a full plant if it lands in an acceptable place.
Linh Nguyen via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
9. Spanish moss doesn’t make good livestock feed, because it has almost no nutritive value. But it has a great number of other uses. Native American women used it for dresses in the past. It can be used as an arbor roof or to hang over a chain-link fence for privacy, but since it will only live in trees, you have to replenish the supply as the moss dies. American colonists mixed Spanish moss with mud to make mortar for their houses—some of which are still standing strong. Dried moss makes good tinder for fires, and you can make it into blankets, rope, and mattress filling. Mattresses filled with Spanish moss are noted for staying cool on a warm summer night. Because it soaks up and retains water, it is also used for garden mulch.
Alexpb via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
10. Many kinds of wildlife take advantage of Spanish moss. Birds use it to build nests. Frogs and spiders live in it. Boll weevils are especially drawn to Spanish moss, but moths are not, which is one reason it was preferred over wool in upholstery before synthetic fibers replaced both. Those who gather Spanish moss are warned against chiggers, but experienced collectors say chiggers only invade the moss after it touches the ground. Before tackling a mound of Spanish moss, you will want to be on guard for snakes that may be hiding in it.
For starters, Spanish moss is neither Spanish in origin, nor is it moss! Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is actually an epiphyte, an “air plant” that grows hanging from tree branches, gathering its nutrients and water from the air. Although it’s native to Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, it has become naturalized in many tropical climates, from Argentina to Polynesia (Kew Royal Botanic Garden, 2016).
Description & Propagation of Spanish Moss
In the Georgia low country, where I live, Spanish moss thrives on live oaks and cypress trees, and it is found everywhere—from the swamps to the suburbs. Why does Spanish moss prefer live oaks and cypress trees rather than others? Interestingly, the leaves of these trees have higher rates of leaching minerals, which provides the plant an abundant supply of nutrients without harming the tree itself (Schlesinger, 1977).
Its specific name, usneoides, lets us know that it looks a lot like Usnea—another plant widely used by herbalists—but it has very different characteristics and uses, which we’ll get into in a bit.
Spanish moss is made of slender stems that connect to one another in a chain-like structure, with alternate, curly, needle-like leaves. It doesn’t have roots, but it does have the tiniest of flowers and seeds. Although it can propagate itself by seed (its seed pods burst in the winter, sending fluffy seeds through the air), Spanish moss is usually spread as fragments are blown away in the wind, and land in another tree’s branches. Birds also use it as nesting material (Florida Plant Encyclopedia, 2015).
Folklore of Spanish Moss
Spanish moss actually looks much more like curly hair than like moss. Probably due to its striking appearance, there is plenty of folklore surrounding Spanish moss. Storyteller Mike Miller tells of a Spanish explorer who fell in love with a Native American woman, but was forbidden to marry her. When he refused to disavow his love and leave the land, he was tied to a tree, where his beard grew and grew, spreading from tree to tree even after his death.
In another version of the legend, a Spanish couple was murdered on their wedding day. As was custom, the bride’s hair was cut before the burial and hung from the live oak tree under which the couple was buried. Over the years, it grew gray and spread from tree to tree as a symbol of her undying love for her husband (Miller, n.d.).
Uses for Spanish Moss
Even here in the South, these days you’re far more likely to see Spanish moss used in floral arrangements (because it’s great at holding water) and craft projects than taken therapeutically. And interestingly enough, Spanish moss is also used by scientists as an atmospheric biometer—that is, a barometer for measuring heavy metal pollution in the air and water and monitoring the effects of air and water quality. Think of this as the plant version of a canary in a coal mine!
Historically, Spanish moss was used by the Houma tribe of Louisiana in cases of fever and chills (Native American Ethnobotany Database, n.d.). It was also an important remedy among enslaved Africans in the Carolinas and Georgia, who used the plant to address diabetes and asthma, taken either as a tea or stuffed inside one’s shoes (Fett, 2000).
As is often is the case, modern science has come to confirm the value of this traditional wisdom—studies have confirmed its helpfulness in maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. After observing a tradition of use by residents of southern Louisiana to support diabetes, Purdue University researchers conducted an animal study on blood glucose, finding that it was indeed effective in lowering levels (Foster, 1996). Researchers have also found that of several compounds isolated from the plant, one in particular–3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaric acid (HMG)—significantly lowers blood sugar in laboratory mice, concluding that the compound could potentially be used as a diabetes treatment (Witherup et al., 1995). Today, HMG is an ingredient in a number of supplements intended to help lower glucose levels!
While there is no toxicity associated with Spanish moss, it can be host to a number of creepy crawlies (though not chiggers, as is popularly believed) as well as bats and snakes. For this reason, you’ll want to be sure your Spanish moss is very clean if you plan to consume it! In addition, Spanish moss available commercially in craft stores is heavily chemically treated, and definitely a no-no to consume therapeutically.
Native American Ethnobotany Database. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://naeb.brit.org/.
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