Spanish Moss is a popular air plant scientifically labelled Tillandsia usneoides. This air plant grows in long strands and is often found dangling off the branches of trees. It is the most widespread of all the Bromeliaceae family. The entire surface of the shoot is covered with highly specialized trichomes (scales) which absorb water and nutrients from the atmosphere; they also reduce transpiration and reflect strong light.
Spanish moss was named such 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”, literally translated as “Spanish Beard”.
Spanish Moss prefers moist habitats and is often abundant near rivers, ponds and lakes. This plant can survive two months without rainfall but will die within three to four months of drought. In dark forest it hangs suspended from the higher limbs of trees (most commonly on trees that are dead). The air plant grows well on most trees, both wild and cultivated, and can do well hanging from a natural string or attached to a piece of driftwood or bark. It does not appear to favor any hosts. There are several varieties of Tillandsia usneoides, of which the most common is the grey-colored one. It is also thus sometimes referred to as ‘Old Man’s Beard’.
Spanish Moss is an easy to care for air plant and can be strung from a wire on the patio or coiled around an orchid or other pot plant. Remember, because it is an epiphytic plant, some of the strands of the plant are just there for structure and food, but are no longer alive. It is quite common for a large clump of this air plant to tangle around itself and grow into a dense ball. Spanish moss is propagated by fragmented pieces of plant called festoons.