Varieties of Spanish Moss.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Bromeliaceae (Identification and classification)
Bromeliaceae (Varieties)
Botany (Identification and classification)
Botany (Research)
Botany (Nomenclature)
Author: Krulik, Jerry
Pub Date: 11/01/2008
Publication: Name: Journal of the Bromeliad Society Publisher: Bromeliad Society International Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Biological sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Bromeliad Society International ISSN: 0090-8738
Issue: Date: Nov-Dec, 2008 Source Volume: 58 Source Issue: 6
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 192689075
Full Text: Spanish Moss, or Tillandsia usneoides, is a locally common plant throughout its range. It has the largest natural distribution of any bromeliad. It ranges from the coastal plains of the southern US, as far north as Virginia or Maryland, all the way down to Argentina in South America. (1)

Throughout this vast range, there hardly seems to be any variation. The flower color is greenish-yellow. One pure yellow form exists in Peru, and is rare in cultivation. Note that blue and red colored flowers, as noted elsewhere on the internet, are hoaxes. There does not even seem to be a white flowered form, the normal default color for plants that lack colored pigment. I suspect that the natural pollinators are beetles rather than the more normal, for tillandsias, moths or butterflies or hummingbirds, due to this obligate greenish yellow color and the small flower size with a flat shape. Californian cultivated plants in my collection, which are outside of the normal range of this species, do not seem to set seed very well, so this may be further evidence for a specialized pollinator. I have dozens of clones from Florida, Louisiana, and unknown sources, so there is plenty of opportunity for cross-pollination. Other plants in this grouping of close relatives (Diaphoranthema; see my article Relatives of Spanish Moss (2)) such as T. recurvata set abundant seed in my collection. Some people claim that the tiny flowers are very sweet smelling. I have not been able to smell anything myself. This could also be a natural variation between clones, or between humans.

The plant body itself does show some variations. There is supposedly one very rare, light reddish colored plant in cultivation (per Jeff Sorenson). However, no scientifically named varieties or subspecies seem to exist. The Florida Bromeliad Council taxonomy web site (3) does not mention any named varieties or subspecies. The one exception is a photo with trivial name descriptions of some types. Other so-called varieties and subspecies I have stumbled across do not seem to be validly published. There are many slightly varying forms of this plant. If you take the most extreme forms and just look at them, you might think that they are distinct. However, any large collection of different clones will show continuous variations in form, eliminating any nameable differences.

In figure 1 there are four extreme forms from my own collection, illustrated by a single plant of each. I have given them trivial hobbyist names, just to keep them separate, as is standard among enthusiasts.

These plants look more different when seen in their normal form, as continuous chains of plants-figures 2 and 3.


There is one other source of variation in Spanish Moss. This is the existence of hybrids. For example, here is one from my own collection. This is a cross between the common T. recurvata and T. usneoides. I suspect that such crosses are not particularly rare. Backcrosses or segregates from a mass of seedlings might even account for plants such as the form 'macro' shown above.


One internet site references another hybrid with T. mallemontii, which is not a member of the Diaphoranthema. Uncle Derek's notes mention that this hybrid was probably made in the 1960's in Australia. Some growers list this for sale also. It is interesting that the Bromeliad Cultivar Registry website does not list any usneoides named hybrids. (4) I expect that other hybrids will either be made, or be identified, in the future. T. usneoides is a popular parent for other Tillandsia crosses with plants outside of the Diaphoranthema group.

For those people impatient with the normal cultivation methods of raising or searching for hybrids and other variations, there is an alternative. You can easily make your own Spanish Moss varieties! Figure 4 is a photo of some of the novel varieties I made in my garden, and exhibited at our meeting a few months ago. The centermost plant is un-dyed Spanish Moss. It is best viewed in color on my website, www.



The outer covering of Spanish Moss is quite absorbent, taking up to ten times its weight in water. This makes it an ideal substrate for craft work or for startling your visitors. It is easy to dye by just immersing the plant in liquid and then allowing it to drip dry. I make all colors from grey and green to red, orange, yellow, and purple, from just the standard 4 colors from liquid food coloring. These colors do not harm the plants, but unfortunately are not waterproof and quickly fade.



(1.) pdf/cs_tius.pdf

(2.) Krulik, Gerald, The Relatives of Spanish Moss, Pup Talk (Saddleback Valley Bromeliad Society), 15(7)p. 5-7, July, 2008. (See at


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