Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides
) is one of the most misunderstood plants found throughout the Deep South. To native South Carolinians, these gray strands draping from the branches of live oaks and other trees are a natural part of the scenery, while many newcomers fear that it may be killing their trees.
Spanish moss on live oak
Karen Russ, ©2008 HGIC, Clemson Extension
Contrary to popular belief, Spanish moss causes little to no detrimental effect on a host tree. It may appear to have roots growing within the host tree, but it is an epiphyte. Epiphytes grow on other plants without taking any water or nutrients from them, and use the host plant for support and protection.
Spanish moss can be seen hanging from many different types of hosts, including pecans, oaks, pines, and even telephone lines. Spanish moss is most evident in trees that are declining due to some other reason. Heavy infestations can lead to further decline by shading out the lower leaves of the tree. It is far too often that homeowners waste a lot of time and energy trying to remove it from their trees, since it is actually causing no harm.
Spanish moss is too often blamed for problems that are caused by other reasons. Increasing tree vigor by proper watering and fertilization is one way to restrict the growth of Spanish moss. There are no chemical treatments available for its control. This small native plant should be appreciated as a part of South Carolina 's natural heritage and not blamed as the cause of other plants' problems.