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

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Tuesday - April 05, 2011

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Trees
Title: Growth in oak tree in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have a very large gorgeous oak tree in our backyard here in San Antonio, Texas. I noticed a thickness high up in the tree. Thinking it was a nest of some sort, I used binoculars and saw a parasitic vine with a woody stem. What is it and how is it growing up there? My husband will try to remove it using a tree trimming tool if he can even reach it. Thank you very much.

ANSWER:

Are you sure it is a vine? If it is a vine, and there are no living vines growing up the tree with roots in the soil, it is remnants of a dead vine and can do no further harm to the tree. We are wondering if perhaps what you are seeing is Tillandsia recurvata (Small ball moss). If you do, indeed, find stems and roots to a vine you will need to cut it off as near to the root as possible and paint the cut edge quickly with a broad range herbicide, being very careful to avoid touching the tree itself with the herbicide. Then, pull down, from the ground, all of the vine you can get loose from the tree. Watch for regrowth from the roots and keep after it.

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 will note they look like bromeliads; they are, in fact, members of the bromeliad family.

 

From the Image Gallery


Small ball moss
Tillandsia recurvata

Small ball moss
Tillandsia recurvata

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