Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Growing a beard


A happy coincidence has prompted this little posting. Last weekend Pammy and I moved our Spanish Moss (aka Old Man's Beard, or more correctly Tillandsia usneoides), from the spot where it has not thrived into one where we hope it will do much better.

Then this morning I was visiting Ngeun's blog and there was his gorgeous watercolour painting of Tillandsia usneoides (along with lots of other really interesting watercolours). Time for a Tillandsia posting here at GA!

Pam and I have always loved Spanish moss, and our plant once was a thriving, healthy thing that actually flowered for us, but over the last few years it has gone downhill slowly but surely, and we thought it must be its position that's to blame. Time for a move to a better, kinder spot, because we both love this unusual yet wonderful air plant. 

Now, last year while in the USA we saw ridiculous amounts of Spanish moss thriving on the Southern Live Oak trees which they favour over there. Pictured below are just two examples from an old plantation in Mississippi which sum up the magic of this 'air plant' which has no roots and gets all its nutrients and moisture from the rain and runoff from the trees on which it resides.


This is the look we're after; just like the old
plantation down in Natchez, Mississippi
(which you can read about here). 

All we lack here is 50 acres of ground and a
hundred or so centuries-old Southern Live Oaks.

So our olive tree will have to do, and the
remnants of our unhappy Spanish Moss
will have to start up a colony there.

The former position of our Spanish Moss was
a pair of wall pots down the side of our house.
At first it thrived there for a few years, then
in the last two years it just began to die off
and wither. I thought its spot was semi-shady
enough, but perhaps it did get a bit too much
full sun in the midday blast of heat? There was
enough left in fairly good condition to start up the
current olive tree drapings, so I am hoping Sydney's
coming humid, wet summer will do the rest.
I think where I went wrong is that a tree is the only really satisfactory natural home for this plant. It needs the constant dappled shade of evergreen leaves, and perhaps there's a minuscule but important feeding provided by the runoff passing over the host tree's foliage? That's just me guessing, but where I had it out in a more open yet shady spot, draped from pots, was all wrong, despite regular misting by me and Sydney's generous rainfall.

We'll know that our Spanish Moss is truly happy once more when it starts to flower. Back in November 2008, our Spanish Moss was so deliriously in love with life that it actually flowered. I blogged about that here, and they are teeny weeny tiny little flowers, but since then in subsequent Novembers it has failed to bloom. I'm expecting no baby green blooms this year of course, but my hopes will be up high this time next year. Stay tuned. In the meantime, and to finish off, three pix of the Old Man's Beard in full bloom, from the glory days, when it was healthy, young and carefree, in love with life. 




8 comments:

Lanie at Edible Urban Garden said...

Old Man's Beard is beautiful, isn't it? There were quite a few trees with loads of it in Callan Park, Rozelle. I'll have a look when I am walking today and see if it is still there...

Christina said...

I saw this growing in Northern California growing on trees right by the coast, an amazing sight! Thanks for reminding me of a lovely holiday. Christina

Dirtgirl said...

How interesting, I have only become a fan of Old Man's Beard over the past year and I never knew it flowered! I bought my first piece at a local Horticultural show last year. Surprisingly it survived and thrived!

I was passing a charity stall in our main street a few months ago I saw a large box of it for sale. As it was getting towards the end if the day, I was sold the whole lot which filled a plastic shopping bag, for only $3.
I have it hanging off the branches of a row of large trees at the rear of my garden, protected from the hot sun and just looking beautiful and now I can look forward to perhaps one day seeing it flower.

Ngeun said...

Aw shucks! Thanks for the plug Jamie; really appreciate it! Re. the Spanish moss, I bought mine from a yard sale & a mass of it was wrapped around a pine cone & then tied to a branch with a string. Really clever idea I think, & you can wrap it around practically anything (drift wood, etc). The lady said she sprays it with water about once a fortnight, & you're right, dappled light is best. I left mine in a tied plastic shopping bag for weeks during transit & when I went to open it, they never looked happier! Lol, they must've loved the humidity in the bag. Such a pretty little flower, like a three pointed star, reminds me of Masdevallia, although many times smaller. There's something quite eerie/spooky (in a cool kinda way) about them! :)

Anonymous said...

to tell the diffrence between spanish moss and old man's beard (usnea), pull the center cord apart inside there will either be a white or black core. white is usnea and black is spanish moss.

David Butler said...

I was recently given a potted orchid as a gift, and the florist has "dressed" the top of the pot with several clumps of old man's beard...they are just sitting in there loose. Do you know if it's possible to start a new plant just from one of these clumps? thanks, davidmorganbutler@gmail.com

Jamie said...

David, it's close to being a weed it's so easy to grow.

Just drape the foliage over something to which it can cling (ie, anything with roughish bark), and it will grow. If some of mine blows off in strong winds, I just plonk it somewhere else and a new clump starts. It's all over my garden now, quite happily so.

Watering it regularly with a spray works wonders, but if your area gets plenty of rain, total neglect is sufficient care.

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