Tillandsia usneoides (L.) L.
Dendropogon usneoides (L.) Raf.
Renealmia usneoides L.
Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor moss. It is named because it resembles a beard lichen of the same name, but it isn’t a lichen either. It is an epiphyte—a plant that grows on other plants without actively parasitizing them. It is also called an air plant because it derives its water and nutritional needs directly from the air (well, sort of ... see below). Although Spanish moss doesn’t directly harm its host trees, it competes with them for sunlight, thus slowing their growth, so the distinction between epiphyte and parasite is somewhat blurred. Spanish moss used to be processed into “horsehair,” which was used to stuff furniture, car upholstery, and mattresses.
Identification: Spanish moss is gray-green or gray-blue in color, growing in large twisting masses that resemble flowing beards, hanging from branches in lengths up to 20' (6 m). It is especially common on oak and cypress trees. Slender stems have alternate, curving, scaly leaflets ¾-2" (2-6 cm) long and only ¹/₃₂" (1 mm) around. There are no roots and the flowers are almost invisible. Spanish moss often contains chiggers and various other small life forms, so careful handling doesn’t hurt.
Spanish moss looks very similar not only to its namesake, California Spanish moss, but to other beard lichens. But Spanish moss grows in hot, humid environments in southeastern North America. Beard lichens prefer cool humid climates such as the Pacific Northwest and New England.
Tillandsia usneoides on FLORIDATA
Tillandsia usneoides on Wikipedia
Tillandsia usneoides on Forestry Images
Tillandsia usneoides on Florida Nature
Tillandsia usneoides description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 21 Apr 2015.
Range: Zones 8-11: