From Our Landscape Architect:
When I first saw Spanish moss draping the trees in an old cemetery it took my breath away. It reminded me of old movies and romantic novels. Now it just fascinates me. And I'm determined to have some in my oak tree here in Galveston.
What is Spanish moss?
Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, is a native, epiphytic plant. It is not actually a moss or a lichen, but an air plant like the Tillandsia species we sell in the nursery. That means it gets its nutrients from dust in the air, moisture from the humidity, and is NOT a parasite. It attaches to tree bark only for support and takes no nutrients from the tree. The only real problem is if it gets really thick on a weak branch, the weight could pull down the branch, especially when it's raining.
Does having Spanish moss have implications for my tree?
Spanish moss is not an indicator of health or weakness in the tree, it just is. However, like lichens, having Spanish moss is a sign that the air is good quality without many toxins. There has been a significant decline in Spanish moss all over the South due to increasing air pollution.
But why don't I see much Spanish moss in Galveston right now?
This is my opinion, but I think the main reason we don't have much Spanish moss here is the storms and the salt air. My reasoning is this: 1) The seeds don't spread all that far on their own, so having a storm like Ike take out so many of our trees, drastically reduced the seed supply for Galveston. 2) Even when we do have seed for Spanish moss spreading around, it won't grow well in areas that are too salty. So the seeds need to land on a sheltered tree out of direct gulf breezes.