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
2 ratings

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


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.


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

More Trees Questions

Erosion Solution for Lorton, VA
February 07, 2014 - We have a steep slope in our common area of our homeowners association. Trees that were planted have died. It is a large area around a pond. What should we plant that will hold the soil? The soil...
view the full question and answer

Small trees for Alberta
March 17, 2011 - I would like to know if there is a short, 15 feet and under, deciduous tree that can be grown outside in Calgary, AB
view the full question and answer

Eco-friendly trees for parks in Brownsville, TX
April 26, 2008 - Which are the best eco friendly trees for parks?
view the full question and answer

Names of native plants in Garland, Texas
October 31, 2008 - We are building a new Assisted Living & Memory Care community in Garland Texas. We typically name the different floor plans after trees, plants or flowers indigenous or native to the area. Can you pr...
view the full question and answer

Young oak damaged by falling tree from San Diego TX
June 27, 2012 - My neighbor's Palo Blanco tree was struck by lightning and fell over our fence and on to a young oak tree in our yard. We waited a few days to see if the neighbor would offer help, but he never did,...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center