Tillandsia usneoides

Tillandsia usneoides
Tillandsia usneoides. Photo by Jason Carley
Tillandsia usneoides is an aesthetically impressive plant and has a ubiquitous presence throughout the southern United States, where it can be seen draped from a wide variety of trees. Tillandsia usneoides favors Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) and Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), but will grow hanging from most any tree or man-made structure where it can receive a large amount of light. Fortunately, T. usneoides is non-parasitic and does little harm to the trees on which it resides.

Although currently valued mostly for its beauty T. usneoides has a history of great importance. It was used by many Native American tribes, such as the Seminole, for many functions including wrapping for fire arrows, clay pottery, canoe reinforcement, and even diaper padding.[1]

tillandsia harvest
Collecting Spanish Moss. Photo by Marion Wolcott. Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection
During the 1930s T. usneoides was in great commercial demand.  In fact, in 1937 nearly 20 million pounds were used as a stuffing material for mattresses, car seats, and furniture.[2] Tillandsia usneoides fell out of favor as a padding material and was replaced by various plastic products after World War II; but during its reign collecting T. usneoides was an important source of income for many Southern families, particularly during hard economic times. Although T. usneoides may have fallen out of favor with humans, it is still a valuable food resource for many animals and is home to a large diversity of organisms, including several bat and bird species.

[1] Immel, Diani. “Spanish Moss.” USDA NRCShttp://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_tius.pdf

[2] Martin, Robert. “Hair from Trees.” Popular Science June 1937: 32-33.