How to Grow and Care for Spanish Moss

by | Oct 19, 2022 | 0 comments

Did you know you can grow Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) in your home? Let’s talk about how to grow and care for it in your home. It is a tillandsia or air plant.

Nothing is more iconic to the Southern United States than trees dripping with moss. It is immortalized on postcards and in television shows and movies.

Antique postcard with Spanish moss dripping from the trees.

Doesn’t it seem it is often used in scary movies with fog rolling in, of course?

You’ll never know how disappointed I was to go to South Carolina in the early 90s and not see any Spanish moss.

When we visited, Hurricane Hugo (Sept. 1989) had recently ravaged the south. Where did all the Spanish moss go? It blew away with the wind. All the trees were bare, and it was so disappointing.

I have since visited and the moss is back and beautiful or spooky, however you feel it looks. 

Spanish Moss
It drapes from the trees and sways in the wind

What is Spanish Moss?

Seen covering trees in the south, many people assume it is a parasitic plant that kills trees. It is not a parasite but an epiphyte, or air plant, and a bromeliad in the same family as pineapples.

In parts of North, South, and Central America, Mexico, and the Bahamas, it hangs on trees, telephone wires, and other objects. Spanish moss, like many bromeliads, has a covering of scales called trichomes. 

Spanish moss
Covered in gray water-holding trichomes

The trichomes absorb water and nutrients collected from the air and rainwater.

This is the only way they get their water, as they have no roots. Though is doesn’t take nutrients from the plant it is growing on, it may break the branches when it is wet and heavy. 

Uses of Spanish Moss

  • Upholstery stuffing for mattresses and furniture in the early 1900s.
  • The moss was buried until the outer covering rotted off, leaving the inner threads. These were baled and sold.
  • Used by native peoples for many different things, including herbal remedies, and may still be today.
  • Used as mulch in landscapes. Dried (dead) moss can be found at your local craft store. 
  • Spanish moss is an indicator of the air quality where it resides. It absorbs the rainwater and if polluted, it harms the plant. 
Antique postcard
Antique postcard

Animal homes

Countless animals including insects, spiders, and bats use it for their homes. The Baltimore oriole and parula warbler use it to construct their nests.

It can be home for chiggers, which are biting mites, but only after it falls to the ground. Resist the temptation to pick up Spanish moss off the ground while you are traveling in the south. 

Spanish moss
The gray covering of trichomes holds water

In the home

I haven’t always been successful with this plant in my home environment. I do have a piece growing now that I’ve had for a couple of years.

It hangs in my west bathroom window year-round. This year I took it outside on the front porch so it could enjoy our humid Michigan summer. I know it isn’t the same as Florida conditions, but it gets humid here in Michigan in the summer, believe me. It seemed to enjoy its outside sojourn.

I brought it in today, soaked it well, and hung it back in the west window. 

Spanish moss
It hung outside all summer with a Tillandsia xerographica

Watering spanish moss

I treat this plant like my other tillandsias and soak it along with them once a week or so. Since it is in the bathroom, many times I will put it in the shower to soak and leave it there to hang and dry.

Soaking tillandsias

I soak my Spanish moss and hang it to dry 

Propagation of Spanish moss

Spanish moss can be propagated by seed or division. Small pieces of it can grow into large plants so it can be pulled apart. It flowers with tiny yellow-green flowers and if pollinated, produces seeds. These disperse by floating on small threads on the seeds, which act like parachutes. 

I love seeing this iconic plant when I visit the southern United States. I love having some hanging in my home, as well. With the right care, you too can have some of the iconic south in your home.

Have a great week, plant friends!


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