Herself's Houston Garden

Conservation through cultivation

Ball moss ( Tillandsia recurvata )




ball moss

ball moss

Tillandsia recurvata is an epiphyte ( air plant ). Epiphytes are plants that grow above the ground, usually on another plant, ball moss can be found growing along electrical lines as well as trees. While ball moss favors oak family trees, it can be found on other species as well.

Ball moss does not harm the trees it grows on. It does favor trees that are not doing well. It just uses them as anchors. Many people consider ball moss unsightly and remove it. I don’t mind it. Each to his/her own.  Ball moss is easy to remove from your trees, just use your garden hose sprayer to knock them down.  Fungicides that contain copper will kill ball moss, however these leave blue stains on your trees.

Ball moss loves high humidity and you find it more often in Houston proper or south and east of the city than you do up in the north west section. It grows from southern Arizona to southern Texas to southeast Georgia and Florida in humid, wet areas.

It can grow in full sun, but prefers part shade. These are very slow growing plants. Ball moss can handle temperatures down to 20’F. It also prefers locations that are protected from the wind.

Tillandsia recurvata can reach up to 10″ in a clump. Most of the clumps I see around here are just a few inches across. In the fall it sends out long stems that produce small purple flowers.

Propagate by dividing the balls.

Tillandsia plants are part of the bromeliad family and there are at least 400 known species of tillandsia. Most are small plants that are grown for foliage. They grow in warm, wet areas of the world. Some have smooth green leaves, others like ball moss have white scales ( trichomes ). These scales trap and hold water for the plant. Plants go dormant in dry times and can often be re-awakened by a warm shower or rainstorm. The tillansia with white scales can better handle sun than those with the smooth shiny leaves.

Problems:
Ball moss is especially sensitive to lime, use rain or bottled ( low pH ) water for watering.
They do not like being both wet and cold.
Use only a very weak fertilizer during high growth times.

More information
Floridata: Tillandsia recurvata
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Epiphytes