|Tillandsia usneoides subsp. var.||Old man's beard, Spanish moss|
Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is a flowering plant that grows upon larger trees, commonly the Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) or Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) in the southeastern United States.
Spanish moss closely resembles its namesake (Usnea, or beard lichen), but in fact it is not biologically related to either mosses or lichens. Instead, it is an angiosperm in the family Bromeliaceae (the bromeliads) that grows hanging from tree branches in full sun or partial shade. Formerly this plant has been placed in the genera Anoplophytum, Caraguata, and Renealmia. It ranges from the southeastern United States (southern Virginia and eastern Maryland) to Argentina, growing wherever the climate is warm enough and has a relatively high average humidity.
The plant consists of a slender stem bearing alternate thin, curved or curly, heavily scaled leaves 2 – 6 cm long and 1 mm in broad, that grow vegetatively in chain-like fashion (pendant) to form hanging structures up to 6 m in  in length. The plant has no aerial roots and its flowers are tiny and inconspicuous. It propagates both by seed and vegetatively by fragments that blow on the wind and stick to tree limbs, or are carried by birds as nesting material.
Spanish moss is an epiphyte (a plant that lives upon other plants; from Greek "epi"=upon "phyte"=plant), which absorbs nutrients (especially calcium) and water from the air and rainfall. Spanish moss is colloquially known as "air plant".
|Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture|
Tillandsia usneoides, Linn. Spanish, Florida, or Long Moss. Whole plant hoary-gray, hanging from trees, the sts. very slender and often several feet long: lvs. scattered, narrow-linear, 1-3 in. long: fls. solitary in the lf.-axils, small and not showy, the petals yellow and reflexed at the end. Trop. Amer. and in the U. S. from Texas to Fla. and E. Va.; extends southward to S. Brazil. —This is one of the most characteristic plants of our southern regions. In moist regions it gives a most weird aspect to the forests. It is used as a packing material, and also, when specially prepared, for upholstery. It is rarely cult., although it is not uncommon in greenhouses, being hung on branches and beams; but it must be renewed frequently. The plant is named for its resemblance to the lichen Usnea. CH
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Spanish moss in Costa Rica.
Southern Live Oak with Spanish moss hanging from it.
Spanish moss in Louisiana.
Spanish moss on a tree at a park in Singapore.
Spanish moss growing on a tree on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
- Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, by L. H. Bailey, MacMillan Co., 1963
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