The botanical name of Spanish moss is tillandsia usneoides. Pronounced as Til-LAND-see-a ooss-nee-OY-days, it also goes by the name of grey beard. It grows well in part shade and prefers moist environments, often adopting hosts of cypress and oak trees in the wild.
The plant is noticeable for its trailing stems of very narrow, silvery grey leaves, which absorb nutrients and moisture from the atmosphere. It isn’t actually a moss at all, but rather a large colony of tiny blooming plants, comparable in concept to a coral reef hanging from a tree. It’s not parasitic either and provides a natural home in the wild for a number of insect and bird species.
The natural habitat of Spanish Moss is the West Indies and Central and South America. It’s used worldwide as an indoor plant.
Spanish Moss is an air plant, which doesn’t have roots. It uses thin and scaly stems instead to wrap itself around a host tree and hang down from branches, using its scales to catch moisture. It has tiny seeds, which are dispersed in nature by birds and the wind.
The plant’s name, ‘usneoides’ translates as ‘resembling usnea’, which is its namesake. However, it’s not related to lichens or mosses, but is an angiosperm in the bromeliads family.
The plant needs a steady atmosphere of warmth and humidity, with the temperature kept above 15 degrees Celsius. Use soft or filtered water to mist it regularly. The plant doesn’t need potting, as it doesn’t have roots.
Did You Know?
Spanish moss has been used in the past for a great variety of purposes, including the production of furniture, car seats and cooling mattresses before air-conditioning became more widely available. It’s still used today for packing, some types of Cajun architecture and to provide natural garden screens.
It’s also a favourite for Southern US gothic imagery in the literary arts, due to its tendency to grow in the southern states of Georgia, Florida, Carolina, Texas and Alabama.