Friday, April 10, 2015

It's the Bromeliads! They're Everywhere! pt 1.

Hide your wife!
Hide your kids!
This post is about air plants!

I want to highlight three plant species, all members of the same genus, Tillandsia. You find them on live oaks and bald cypress especially, but they also reside on many other tree species. They don't (usually) hurt the trees (we'll talk about the worst case scenario), but instead they simply live on the bark of the trees they inhabit. These plants need a "perch" not dirt, and it just so happens that live oaks and cypress trees serve as the perfect perch because they excrete certain minerals the Tillandsias sp. need to survive.

All three species shown in this post are common species. You can find them all over Florida, and I found them all in the same live oak. We'll handle them in the order that I discovered them in my area. Each plant deserves its own post.

First up:
Tillandsia usneoides: Spanish Moss.

Tillandsia usneoides
This plant surprises most people by being a bromeliad. Pineapples (Ananas comosus) are bromeliads too! True story, Spanish Moss is a cousin of the Pineapple. It's also the most widespread Tillandsia in the USA. The latin name refers to the superficial appearance it has with a lichen genus, Usnea. to tell them apart, understand that Usnea lichens have a solid white inner core, if you try to pull a strand apart, the white core is visible. In Spanish Moss, the core is black. They are both stringy, but with Spanish Moss, I always think of monkeys in a barrel, the plant is a long chain. With Usnea, it's more like a tree trunk with branches sprouting out. There's always one main trunk. When you have both in the hand, the differences are very apparent. When you look at them across the street, they start to look similar. Lichens don't have flowers though, and bromeliads do. While the flower of T. usneoides is nothing particularly spectacular, it's one of those flowers that grows on you  and leaves you saying "so that's what that flower looks like!"
T. usneoides flower

T. usneoides flower

 A green glint on grey
Catching bright morning sunshine
Glowing small flower

Not big nor showy
They open along the chain
Hoping for pollen

T. usneoides seeds

Ripened flower's seeds
Cast forth on the wind seeking
A new place to grow

 Early in Florida's history, Spanish Moss found its way into the mattress of many pioneers. While people, for the most part, no longer use it as bedding, the Seminole bat (Lasiurus seminolus) among other bats uses it as a daytime roost. When I see Spanish Moss, I instinctively know I'm supposed to be there. It's a sign that the air is clean, free from pollution (especially the pollution that causes acid rain), and that the weather doesn't get too cold. The way it hangs on trees suggests a wise elder, and I've spent many moments pondering the wisdom the grey adorned wood has to offer.

 In doing research on the Tillandsias common to the neighborhood, I came across some useful links that I've posted at the bottom, I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I did.
Also feel free to share a haiku about the Spanish Moss in your neck of the woods.

Florida's native bromeliads:
How to know when you've got Usnea:
A list of Tillandsias:


The Louisiana Bayou Rat said...

Great summation of the plant, by the by.I have a tendency to associate the Spanish Moss here with Red wasp though, due to the humongous nest that are also found in the bald cypress trees of Bayou Cocodrie.

GB Hoyt said...

True, but I don't think I've ever actually seen a wasp nest on Spanish Moss. Right now, I'm trying to find a bat colony in some. Still looking, but we know (girls and I) from observation, that the bats are back in town. Saw at least three species judging from body type on Friday at dusk.