Spanish moss uses trees only as a place to grow, so it does not cause trees to decline or die.
A forest is really a community of plants and animals. Within this large community are smaller groups of living things that grow together. Even an individual tree often has an association of plants that grow with it. Some are easily seen, like mistletoe and Spanish moss, while others are not as noticeable. Many of these plants are harmless to the tree. Mistletoe
Mistletoe is easily recognizable in the winter by its persistent leathery green leaves. The leaves contain chlorophyll and can make their own food from carbon dioxide and water like all other green plants.
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However, mistletoe has root-like structures that are imbedded in the host plant. These root-like structures extract water and minerals from the tree and securely anchor the plant to the host tree.
Mistletoe is easily recognizable in the winter by its persistent green leaves.
Mistletoe produces small white berries. The pulp of these berries is sticky. The seeds are spread by wind and birds. If they get attached to a suitable tree, they send out structures that enter the tree and a plant grows at that spot.
To control mistletoe, cut off the branch of the host tree at least six inches below the point where the mistletoe is attached. Remember, this will also damage the tree some. If you can easily reach the mistletoe, you can keep cutting off the top of the plant. Even though the parasite will grow back, spread is reduced because mistletoe must be several years old before it can bloom and produce seed.
Although mistletoe seeds are enjoyed by many birds, the seeds are extremely toxic to humans. The stem and leaves are also toxic and are reported to cause skin irritation on contact in some people. Between 1985 and 1992, U.S. poison control centers reported 1,754 cases of accidental poisoning of children or pets with mistletoe, so keep the plants and decorations out of the reach of children and pets.
Each bundle of Spanish moss is made up of a mass of long slender, gray-green filaments which are the stems and leaves of the plant. Spanish moss
Spanish moss is another plant commonly seen in trees. It is a close relative of the pineapple and is found in warm humid climates like Florida’s. Spanish moss is an epiphyte, an organism which requires the host only for support and protection. Spanish moss does not feed directly on the tree but obtains its nutrients from the air and rain.
Each bundle of moss is made up of a mass of long slender, gray-green filaments. These filaments are stems and leaves of the plant. These leaves, produce food through photosynthesis.
Since the leaves of Spanish moss require sunlight to produce its own food, it thrives in trees that are in a state of decline or have less vigorous growth. Since Spanish moss uses the tree only as a place to grow, it does not cause the tree to decline or die. Where it is really thick, it may compete with the tree for sunlight, but if it is that thick, there is probably something else seriously affecting the tree. A healthy vigorous tree is not affected by Spanish moss.
Spanish moss spreads by wind and birds. Many species of birds use it for nesting material, so it is good to have it around.
Resurrection fem can survive dry spells by going into dormancy and then “greening up” when rain returns, hence its name. Resurrection fern
Resurrection fern is another epiphany that is found on rough barked trees, especially live oak. Like the Spanish moss, this epiphyte also only uses the tree for support and protection. It grows where there is little soil to store water. It can survive dry spells by going into dormancy and then “greening up” when rain returns, hence the name resurrection fem.
Broken branches containing the fern can be decoratively placed in gardens. If you desire the brown crinkled up leaves to be lush and green, simply spray the fern with water and it will resurrect.
Lichens are a gray-green type of mossy growth often found growing on the bark of trees. Lichens
Lichens are a gray-green type of mossy growth often found growing on the bark of trees. This plant is not parasitic. It is a combination of alga and fungus growing together. The lichen is a green plant and produces food through photosynthesis. The fungus protects the alga and keeps it moist.
The alga supplies food for the fungus. In this way, algae and fungi have a mutualistic relationship, where they both benefit. This relationship allows lichen to grow where few other plants can grow, like bare rocks, fence posts, and limbs and trunks of trees. Again, the lichen is harmless to the tree. Moss
Moss is another green plant that you will find on trees in moist situations. Moss is a green plant, and like the lichen, just uses the tree as a place to grow, but takes nothing from the tree and therefore does not harm it. Vines
We have many species of vines native to and planted in this area. Vines, when left unchecked, can be a problem for trees. There are three basic types of vines: clingers, twiners, and winders.
The clingers are vines which grasp rough surfaces by means of rootless or adhesive disks. This type of vine includes English ivy. Twining vines climb by encircling upright vertical supports (such as trees). Confederate jasmine is a common twining vine.
Lastly, there are the winder vines. These vines climb by means of tendrils. Tendrils come in many forms and sizes. They wind themselves around some kind of support in response to friction. Grape vines are an example of a winder vine.
All these types of vines can grow up into trees. They can compete with trees for sunlight, pull young trees over, or break off branches. Vines, if managed, can add beauty to trees and provide food and shelter for wildlife. It is important to watch them and trim them from time to time to keep them from damaging trees.
You can spray a vine with an herbicide if you can reach enough of the plant and only spray the vine foliage and not the foliage of the tree. I prefer to simply cut the vine at the base of the tree. The top portion of the vine will then die and eventually rot and fall off the tree.
The bottom portion will often regrow into the tree. Sometime later you can repeat the process. Or if you desire to kill the vine, keep clipping off the sprouts or spray them with an herbicide.
Stan Rosenthal :
Stan Rosenthal is a forester with Natural Resources Planning Services and Forestry Agent Emeritus with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, an Equal Opportunity Institution. For gardening questions, email the extension office at email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Things that grow on trees range from harmless to hindrance