|Photo by John Gwaltney hosted at Southeastern Flora.com|
|Division:||Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants|
|Class:||Liliopsida - Moncots|
|Natural range of Tillandsia usneoides from USDA NRCS Plants Database.|
Synonym(s): Dendropogon usneoides (Linnaeus) Rafinesque.
Tillandsia usneoides is an epiphyte (non-parasitic air plant) able of photosynthesize, typically is found hanging from the branches of trees. It is a monoecious perennial that grows as a forb/herb or vine. Leaves are whitish gray in color and its flowers are white solitary inconspicuous flowers which occur at the end of short axillary branches. Possessing no roots, it is coated with scales that help it to absorb water and nutrients from the air and surrounding environment. Such absorption can hold over 600% its weight in water.
This species is found along the southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain in eastern Texas, eastward to Florida, and northward Maryland. It also occurs in parts of Mexico, Central and South America, the West Indies.
T. usneoides has been found in pine tree branches, floodplain forests, white oak trees, camphor trees, upland woodlands, bottomland woods, cypress trees, live oak trees, swamps, cabbage palm hammocks, juniper trees, and along rivers. It is also found in disturbed areas including old fields, shady lawns, and burned savanna. Associated species: Quercus geminata, Taxodium, Quercus virginiana, Quercus stellata, Tillandsia, and Pinus caribaea.
T. usneoides requires areas with high humidity and is therefore common in swamps, along bayous, rivers, ponds, and lakes. It can also be found in dry forests, including sandhills, where frequent fog occurs. Although tolerant of shade, it seems to prefer areas where direct sunshine occurs.
The seeds are wind-dispersed with the aid of fluffy coma, which assist in attachment to bark on tree stems and branches and after rain become matted to the bark prior to germination. However, the spread of T. usneoides is not considered to occur primarily by seeds, as seeds are have low germination rates and are often considered relatively useless. Instead, the spread of its festons by wind and animals, including birds and deer, are thought to disperse the plant. There is also evidence supporting the importance of hurricanes that disperse fragmented festons and produce a surge in frequency.
Seed bank and germination
Germination in T. usneoides occurs very quickly; dehiscence occurring in March can produce seedlings by early April. While seedlings can be commonly seen, they tend to remain seedlings for extended periods of time. Intermediate forms of T. usneoides are rare to find adding to the mystery of its use of seeds and growth patterns.
Herbivory and toxicology
Tillandsia usneoides has been observed to host insect species such as Jalysus sp. (family Berytidae), Eutettix sp. (family Cicadellidae), Zelus tetracanthus (family Reduviidae), and Paromius longulus (family Rhyparochromidae).
Although not comprising a significant portion of their diet, T. usneoides is commonly found in the rumens of fallow deer throughout the year. Spanish moss can also be used as a food for cattle, especially in the winter when other food may be scarce. Some birds will use strands of T. usneoides to build their nests. Thrips are also found in the moss and will lay an egg after puncturing the base of the style. Besides thirps, more than 50 families of insects have been observed on Spanish moss in Louisiana. Additionally, several species of bats have been documented roosting in T. usneoides. Lichens may also complexly influence the growth and habitat of Spanish moss.
Conservation, cultivation and restoration
Large amounts of T. usneoides settling on tree branches can be detrimental to other plants by shading or weighing down and snapping branches. To counter these effects, people will sometimes remove T. usneoides by hand or by cutting branches of the host.
Humans also use Spanish moss for various things. When allowed to rot in water, a horse hair like black fiber remains that can be used to stuff mattresses and cushions or make ropes. During the 1800's, it was used as a stomachic, purgative, and diuretic and native Americans would drink it as a tea to relieve chills and fever. It is also useful for making rope or cords. More recently, T. usneoides is used for the biomonitoring of atmospheric metallic pollution, including zinc, cobalt, barium, iron, rubidium, and many more.
References and notes
- Weakley A. S.(2015). Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Herbarium.
- USDA, NRCS. (2016). The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 11 January 2018). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
- Billings FH (1904) A study of Tillandsia usneoides. Botanical Gazette 38(2):99-121.
- Weakley, A.S. 2015. Flora of the southern and mid-atlantic states. Working Draf of 21 May 2015. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- Plant database: ‘’Tillandsia usneoides’’. (11 January 2018).Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. URL: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=TIUS
- Garth RE (1964) The ecology of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides): Its growth and distributions. Ecology 45(3):470-481.
- Penfound WT, Deiler FG (1947) On the ecology of Spanish moss. Ecology 28(4):455-458.
- Florida State University Herbarium Database. URL: http://herbarium.bio.fsu.edu. Last accessed: June 2021. Collectors: Loran C. Anderson, Robert K. Godfrey, R. Komarek, O. Lakela, Richard S. Mitchell, and R. F. Thorne. States and counties: Florida: Citrus, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Jackson, Lee, Leon, Liberty, Pinellas, and Wakulla. Georgia: Grady.
- Nelson, G. PanFlora: Plant data for the eastern United States with emphasis on the Southeastern Coastal Plains, Florida, and the Florida Panhandle. www.gilnelson.com/PanFlora/ Accessed: 11 JAN 2018
- Robertson, K.M. 2017. Personal observation in Everglades National Park, Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
- Schimper AFW (1884) Ueber Bau und Lebensweise der Epiphyten Westindiens. Verlag von Theodor Fischer, Cassel, Germany.
- Mehlman DW (1992) Effects of fire on plant community composition of North Florida second growth pineland. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 119(4):376-383
- Platt, W.J., R. Carter, G. Nelson, W. Baker, S. Hermann, J. Kane, L. Anderson, M. Smith, K. Robertson. 2021. Unpublished species list of Wade Tract old-growth longleaf pine savanna, Thomasville, Georgia.
- Discoverlife.org 
- Morse BW, McElroy ML, Miller KV (2009) Seasonal diets of an introduced population of fallow deer on little St. Simons Island, Georgia. Southeastern Naturalist 8(4):571-586.
- Rafinesque CS (1828) Medical Flora; or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America. Atkinson SC, Philadelphia.
- Rainwater CF (1941) Insects and spiders found in Spanish moss, gin trash and woods trash, and on wild cotton. United States Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, E-528.
- Menzel MA, Krishon DM, Carter TC, Laerm J (1999) Notes on tree roost characteristics of the northern yellow bat (Lasiurus intermedius), the Seminole bat (L. seminolus), the evening bat (Nycticeius humeralis), and the eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus). Florida Scientist 62(3/4):185-193.
- Carter TC, Ford WM, Menzel MA (2000) Fire and bats in the southeast and mid-Atlantic: More questions than answers? In: The role of fire in nongame wildlife management and community restoration: Traditional uses and new directions. Proceeding of a Special Workshop, Nashville Tennessee, General Technical Report NE-288, pp 139-143.
- Callaway RM, Reinhart KO, Tucker SC, Pennings SC (2001) Effects of epiphytic lichens on host preference of the vascular epiphyte Tillandsia usneoides. Oikos 94:433-441.
- Porcher FP (1869) Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical and Agricultural. Walker, Evans and Cogswell Printers.
- Speck FG (1941) A list of plant curatives obtained from the Houma Indians of Louisiana. Primitive Man 14(4):49-73.
- Figueiredo AMG, Nogueira CA, Saiki M, Milian FM, Domingos M (2007) Assessment of atmospheric metallic pollution in the metropolitan region of Sao Paulo, Brazil, employing Tillandsia usneoides L. as biomonitor. Environmental Pollution 145:279-292.