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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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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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Saturday - February 05, 2011

From: Middleburg, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Pests, Trees
Title: Weird growth on oaks in Middleburg FL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants; I have this plant/fungus that grows on my trees here in northeast Florida & nobody has been able to identify it for me. It looks like a clump of pine needles growing on the bark of the trees, not pine trees but mostly Live Oaks. I have a couple of pictures of one that fell to the ground but I don't see where I can attach a photo. Please advise.

ANSWER:

We suspect that what you have is not a fungus at all, but 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 Florida as well as 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.

From Floridata, here is some more information on Tillandsia recurvata relevant to Florida.

 

From the Image Gallery


Small ball moss
Tillandsia recurvata

Small ball moss
Tillandsia recurvata

Small ball moss
Tillandsia recurvata

Small ball moss
Tillandsia recurvata

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