Spanish Moss, tillandsia usneoides

Dewees Island spanish moss
Spanish Moss

One of the most iconic plants of the coastal south, Spanish Moss, is not really a moss at all.  It is an epiphyte which is able to grab nutrients entirely from the air. A distant relative of the pineapple, Spanish moss makes a home on plants with surfaces that provide an easy stronghold for their roots and long stringy masses to grab ahold of.  Early colonists used it as a binder for clays and mud in chimneys and plastering houses.  Later, it was used as stuffing in furniture and automobile seats!  It is not a parasite and does not harm the trees.  Like the resurrection fern, it relies more on regular rainfall for hydration, but it is able to gather moisture from the air as well.  The roots anchor the plant to the tree, and the leaves and stems are covered with tiny scales that absorb water by capillary action.  Like other plants, they depend on photosynthesis to process sunlight, and they get necessary minerals from decaying bark of the host tree, or dissolved rainwater minerals, or from wind-borne particles on the bark of the host tree.

They reproduce mostly by dispersal of the whole plant by wind or animals, but they do flower and disperse seeds as well.

seed pods of Spanish Moss