Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is a plant commonly seen here in the lowcountry hanging from trees. It is not a true moss, but a flowering plant which has adapted to growing in trees. Spanish moss has no roots, but instead soaks up water from the air by using a spongy coat around its stems and leaves. Its stems and leaves are gray-green in color, and it can form long trailing clusters that shine silver in the sunlight. Like other flowering plants, Spanish moss produces its own food by using the energy of the sun, and takes no nutrition from the plant it lives in, so is not a parasite. It flowers in the spring, producing small green flowers that are very hard to see. The seeds produced from these flowers are spread by wind currents.
Spanish moss belongs to a large group of plants called bromeliads that make their living in the trees. Because they absorb gases, moisture and other materials from the air, they are often susceptible to air pollution, so may serve as an indicator of when our air quality worsens. Spanish moss is used by wildlife as food and to line nests and was also used by humans in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a stuffing for furniture and car seat cushions.
Native & Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas & Georgia: www.namethatplant.net/