En EspaŅol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

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


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?


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

Problems with non-native Callery Pear tree from Louisville KY
June 03, 2013 - I have a Cleveland select that has a bark issue. It is on its second season and I just saw this. It looks like the bark is bubbling up kinda and then wants to peel off the main trunk. I have a picture...
view the full question and answer

Need help with a misshapen Monterey Oak in Austin, TX
March 11, 2010 - In the Fall of 2008, I purchased a very tall Monterey Oak from TreeFolks at the Burger Center Sale. Since the wind was so high, all the tall trees were on the ground, and I guess that is why I did no...
view the full question and answer

Stressed Ashe juniper is dropping needles
May 07, 2015 - We have a large Ashe juniper tree in our backyard, at least 20 ft tall. This past winter/spring, several limbs have died and it's dropped a ton of leaves (clumps of "needles" really). Is it slowly ...
view the full question and answer

Identity of fragrant oak-like leaves used at funeral
October 14, 2012 - In the early 1950's I attended my grandmother's funeral in the Southern West Virginia area. At the gravesite, the funeral home had provided what looked like dried oak leaves, (red brown and gold col...
view the full question and answer

Trees blooming white in East Tennessee in April
April 07, 2010 - What kind of tree is blooming now, 4\6\10 in the mountains of east TN. They have white blooms?
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center