Skip to main content

Spanish Moss is not a moss

A beautiful early spring landscape, indeed, and it ain't Ohio. A project had me dipping back into the photo files, and I ran across this image from my trip to South Carolina last April. While down south, I made a point of photographing Spanish Moss, Tillandsia usneoides, one of the classic botanical symbols of the south.

I nearly sped by a gorgeous old cemetery on my way to Congaree National Park, but a stand of behemoth oaks and other trees festooned with Spanish Moss made me hit the brakes. Early morning sunshine and the clear blue ether made the photo ops that much better.

You just can't miss the hanging draperies of this plant; it's as if the trees wear grizzled beards. The name is a misnomer, though. Spanish Moss is not a moss at all - it is a monocotyledonous flowering plant. A bromeliad, to be specific. It actually looks more like a lichen than a moss, as suggested by the specific epithet of its scientific name: usneoides. When you see a scientific name with the epithet appended with an "oides" ending, it means "resembles". So, in the case of Spanish Moss, usneoides means "resembles Usnea", and Usnea is a genus of beard lichens.

But the pendant growths of Spanish Moss are air plants, and derive their nutrients from rain and air, and perhaps minerals leached from the host plant. As might be expected from such an obvious plant, it has garnered a fair share of attention. Balladeer Gordon Lightfoot - of Edmund Fitzgerald fame - wrote a tune entitled "Spanish Moss". So did the punk band Against Me!, and you can hear their song Spanish Moss, HERE. As an interesting automotive footnote, Spanish Moss was used widely in the early 1900's to stuff the seats of automobiles.

As might be expected of a plant that produces copious biomass, certain critters are strongly associated with Spanish Moss. A species of jumping spider, Pelegrina tillandsiae, is said to only inhabit this plant, and bats, snakes, insects and who knows what all lurks in its tangled masses. The gorgeous songbird above, the Northern Parula, is strongly associated with Spanish Moss and this warbler typically makes its nest in the plant, at least where the two species overlap.

Later on the same day that I made the first three photos, I came across this Northern Parula foraging in close proximity to Spanish Moss and couldn't resist trying to get both species in the same capture.

For me, one of the highlights of heading into the Deep South is the trees tangled in this interesting member of the Bromeliad family.


Anonymous said…
Hi Jim. Your interesting note auto seats being stuffed with Spanish moss - my late father once related a 1930's depression story to me. He and a couple other family members in their youth worked picking Spanish moss in Fl for auto supply to help their families make ends meet. Love all of your knowledge about natural world. Thanks for your posts. Gary Wayne

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.

So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…