Fashionable florists have discovered dried Spanish moss as an attractive inclusion

Spanish Moss: Decorator’s Delight

By —— Bio and Archives--January 8, 2018

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Spanish Moss: Decorator's Delight
Neither Spanish nor a moss Tillandsia usneoides, along with peach trees and live oaks, is often associated with the U.S. antebellum South. Nevertheless, those travelling further afield will discover its silvery-grey thread-like masses trailing at every vantage point southwards as far as Argentina and Chile.

Strands up to 25-feet long absorb moisture from the air so effectively that they can dispense with roots. Indeed, so efficient are they that it can happily exist and even flourish on telephone lines and power wires, much to the displeasure of utility companies, who are forced to repeatedly clear them.

Such growths, left untended to, may grow into a vast mass of other epiphytic herbage. This may include other Tillandsia and bromeliad species, orchids and ferns. These can prove happy hunting grounds for adventurous botanists, but hazardous ones. One unfortunate such investigator died while poking such a mass with her pole, used for collecting out-of-reach plants, came in contact with a live cable concealed therein.

The flowers are small, almost lost in the mass of concealing growth, opening as yellow changing to blue as they age. Many of Tillandsia usneoides relations display similar blooms over modest spikes of the same slivery-grey foliage. Collectively, they are often peddled as novelty ‘air plants.’ Mounted on pieces of driftwood with a dab of adhesive, potential purchases are advised the plants need only a daily spray of water to keep them flourishing.

Fashionable florists have discovered dried Spanish moss as an attractive inclusion for their trés chic—and not inexpensive—arrangements. Home decorators can create similar pièce de résistance by surrounding the ever-popular bromeliad plants with a handful or two. Planters of African violets and other gesneriads may also receive the same treatment.

Outdoors, porch containers featuring dried arrangements can be dressed up with the silver-grey strands. In spring, summer and fall planters of mixed blooms, grasses and foliage are set off in a similar manner. In such situations, Spanish moss also makes a surprisingly effective mulch, retaining soil moisture.

The ubiquitous usneoides has known perhaps more practical, less decorative uses. Up until the 1950s it found favour as stuffing for upholstered furniture and automobile seats. Medicinally brewed into a tea, it was believed to aid women in childbirth. It might even be pushed into shoes in an attempt to lower high blood pressure.

The genus Tillandsia received its name from the great taxonomist Carl Linnaeus. Elias Tillandz or Tillands (1640-1693) was a Swedish botanist and physician. He was active in Finland with absolutely no connection with the plants which now bear his name—except for one. A frequently mischievous Linnaeus was all too aware that his fellow botanist was fearful of water. So much was his aquaphobia that he once walked some 1,000 kilometres to avoid sailing across the Baltic. It may be just a coincidence that in Swedish “till lands” means “by land.”

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Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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