The next time I visit Savannah, Georgia, I promise to try my best for one of those dreamy “Spanish moss and oak” photographs–something like this one from Celeste Booth’s article on “The Story Behind Spanish Moss” via bromeliads.info.
In the meantime, these will have to do! The first photograph reveals two of the small bright-green flowers of Spanish moss, proving that it is indeed not one of the non-flowering mosses. It is actually a member of the Bromeliaceae, and therefore in the same family as pineapples. The second photograph, taken in the movie-famous Bonaventure Cemetery, only hints at the draping masses of Tillandsia usneoides:
But of all the plants of these curious tree-gardens the most striking and characteristic is the so-called Long Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). It drapes all the branches from top to bottom, hanging in long silvery-gray skeins, reaching a length of not less than eight or ten feet, and when slowly waving in the wind they produce a solemn funereal effect singularly impressive.
It certainly can be. Perhaps I’ll have to learn how to make a video of it, accompanied by this Gordon Lightfoot song:
Tillandsia usneoides is an important component in several subtropical to tropical New World flora and fauna communities. Some species of invertebrates, like the jumping spider Pelegrina tillandsiae, is reported to only be found associated with Spanish moss, while vertebrates like rat snakes and at least 3 species of bat also preferentially reside within it. When visiting the area, we warned about a different organism group associated with Tillandsia usneoides: the mite family Trombiculidae, also known as chiggers. We didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing any issues, which was in line with the results within a 2010 publication by Whitaker and Ruckdaschel: Spanish Moss, the Unfinished Chigger Story (Southeastern Naturalist 9(1):85-94). The authors report:
There is a widespread belief in the southern parts of the United States that Trombiculidae (Chiggers) are common in Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish Moss) (Bromeliaceae). However, no chiggers were found among the 3297 organisms collected from T. usneoides and T. recurvata (Ball Moss) in trees and from the ground on Cumberland Island, GA.
Additional resources on Tillandsia usneoides:
- Kew has an excellent summary article on Tillandsia usneoides, with discussion about human uses of the species
- one of winning essays from the 2006 American Museum of Natural History’s Young Naturalist Awards goes into detail on Tillandsia usneoides: An Indicator to Air Pollution
- Oxford Plants 400 has a factsheet on Tillandsia usneoides, which touches on some of the physiology of the species
- Forestryimages.org has a number of images of Tillandsia usneoides