Spanish moss

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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.[2] 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 (0.79–2.4 in) long and 1 mm (0.039 in) broad, that grow vegetatively in chain-like fashion (pendant) to form hanging structures up to 6 m (240 in)[3] in length. The plant has no aerial roots [3] 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.

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Ecology

Spanish moss is an epiphyte which absorbs nutrients (especially calcium) and water from the air and rainfall. Spanish moss is colloquially known as "air plant".

While it rarely kills the trees it lowers their growth rate by reducing the amount of light to a tree's own leaves. It also increases wind resistance, which can prove fatal to the host tree in a hurricane.

In the southern U.S., the plant seems to show a preference of growth on Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) or Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) because of these trees' high rates of foliar mineral leaching (calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus) providing an abundant supply of nutrients to the plant,[4] but it can also colonize other tree species such as Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), crape-myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.), other oaks, and even pines.

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