En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Saturday - March 12, 2011

From: San Marcos, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Herbs/Forbs, Trees
Title: What are the grey-green plants on oak trees in San Marcos, TX?
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

The oak trees in the neighborhood in San Marcos, TX, are covered with clumps, or balls, of gray/green fluffy-looking plants. they remind me of bromeliads. You can pull and knock them off; after wind and rain, they fall to the ground. Right now, there are little or no buds on the trees, especially the limbs that have lots of these 'bromeliads' - the branches look dead. Are these plants parasites? Are they killing the oak trees?

ANSWER:

From a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer, we believe that what you are seeing is Tillandsia recurvata (Small ball moss). This is an epiphyte or "air plant," not a parasite. It draws no nutrition from the tree, just uses it as a place to live. They are often seen on oaks, and are native to Texas and a few other states. Sometimes people think they are killing the oaks because they tend to grow on interior, old limbs, where they can get more shade. Here are some pictures and information from the University of Texas Image Archive of Central Texas Plants. They can be unsightly but do no harm. We have heard of people using them to make Christmas decorations.

You were correct in saying they look like bromeliads; they are, in fact, members of the bromeliad family.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Tillandsia recurvata


Tillandsia recurvata

 

 


 

More Trees Questions

Texas wild olive tree
April 05, 2012 - I live in the Phoenix area. My Texas wild olive (Cordia boissieri) is about 5 years old, about 12 feet tall and has beautiful blossoms all year long. However, this past year (through all seasons...
view the full question and answer

Natural Privacy Planting for New Jersey
October 09, 2013 - I have a question about privacy plantings in New Jersey (Monmouth County). We have a wooden fence around the perimeter of backyard with some various older trees. We wanted to start anew and wanted to ...
view the full question and answer

Is western soapberry (Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii) dioecious?
February 15, 2008 - Hi! I found different information on the flowering habits of the western soapberry, Sapindus saponaria var. drummondii. Is it dioecious or polygamo-dioecious or none of them? I have some little seed...
view the full question and answer

Native trees for cemetery plot in Karnes County, TX
April 08, 2007 - I'm looking for a tree for a cemetery plot in Karnes County at Pana Maria. There will be someone to regularly water it. I understand live oak and pecan are native to the area. I assume these would...
view the full question and answer

Why is my Ash drooping?
June 22, 2009 - Last spring, I bought a house in Austin, TX with a large Ash tree in the front yard. It looked fine last year, but has been looking funny since it leafed out this spring. It's as if the leaves are we...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center