Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bromeliad on a Stick

There is something appealing about the weird sputnik shape of ball moss/Tilandsia recurvata . Although I have never seen them used I am sure that branches with ball moss colonies would make a very mod, very cool floral arrangement or sculpture.
When I find the balls on the ground I take them home and put them to a more mundane use. They make good ‘mulch’ over the soil in pots of bromeliads. Ball moss is itself a bromeliad.

Now don’t that look natural?

There is no consensus about what ball moss is doing up there in the trees. Some say that it is a true parasite that will suck out the life of the tree. This scary-looking crepe myrtle has a bad case of ball moss:

Some say it is a benign epiphyte which simply prefers the more open canopy of a sparse tree. I am not an arborist but I have an opinion anyway. Ball moss is not a murderer or a sunbather, but gets established on a tree that can’t thwart it because it is already weak or sick. For example, here is the root flare of the same crepe myrtle above:

It looks like damage from a line trimmer used to cut the grass next to the trunk, followed by an infection in the wound. I would bet my Felco’s this happened before the first ball moss showed up.

Some healthy looking trees have a small stable ball moss population. But the association of prolific ball moss and really sick trees looks as if ball moss is not merely using the branch as a perch. Science, anyone?


tina said...

Very observant of you and I agree, the tree must be stressed. I have never seen these before and while they may not be good for the stressed tree, they are cool looking.

Esther Montgomery said...

I'm wondering if you aren't concerned that by bringing it into your garden, you might not be running the risk of it getting a hold on your trees should they be damaged or weakened in some way - ones which would strengthen in time if they didn't have extra problems to cope with?

Ball moss looks as if it's like spiders, mice and ladybirds - pretty and interesting in small numbers but repellent if they get out of control.

Esther Montgomery

compost in my shoe said...

Could be they like a little more sunlight perched in trees that are in decline means less leaf cover. They are marvelous. Wish that species of Tillandsia grew in our trees here in Charleston.

Muddy Mary said...

Tina, and Compost, Yes, it's pretty neat to have plants growing in the trees naturally. Now, some orchids would be nice...
Esther, I do wonder what the hazard may be in bringing ball moss home. But I do anyway because 1) they are all collected within a block of home, so the seeds are whirling around in the air anyway, and 2) I must be a risk taker.

Esther Montgomery said...

I like that reply!


I likE plants! said...

Your right Mary! They are epiphytes they do not cause any damage to the tree but they are opportunists, when they can take over! I have them in all my trees here in Florida but they live in symbiosis with the healthy trees!!!

Ruthie said...

Mary ~

Thanks for visiting my blog. It's so nice to meet another Houston gardener! I know many people who garden through Urban Harvest but rarely do they take pictures or invite me over. :):)

I am learning so much from your blog. Your grapes are gorgeous!

Here is my ball moss story. My mother in law has a neighbor who insisted that ball moss was killing his pecan tree. Cheryl did the research and told him no, the ball moss was only a sign of the tree being troubled for some other reason. But, being who she is, she still spent an entire day helping him pick off all the moss.

Look forward to learning more from you!!

Muddy Mary said...

Ruthie, Well you must be thinking so much for the rumoured 'southern hospitality' thing. Come on over for a cup of tea and a look around the garden (such as it is right now)! Just drop me a line at marekale@yahoo.com.