Monday, November 16, 2009

Ball Moss Doesn’t Get The Respect It Deserves Among Epiphytes

It’s a very curious thing indeed. While people love the sight of Spanish moss hanging off trees as an idyllic image of the South, the same does not hold true, however, for Ball moss.

Spanish moss and Ball moss are both epiphytes, not true moss, and are often commonly referred to as “air plants.” Both are members of the same plant family (Bromliacea), and grow in tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Americas, often on Live oaks and Bald cypresses, and have similar looking green and silver tendrils. Neither is a parasite to its host tree, but lives harmlessly off the water and nutrients in the air. Spanish moss hangs from the tree like a long beard, while Ball moss looks like, well, a ball. But, while the Spanish moss is revered, the Ball moss is reviled, and there is no justifiable reason why.

Despite the fact that they are very nearly the same except for their shape, how certain people view these two remarkable plants could not be more different. While some people use the words “romantic,” “beautiful,” “charming,” and “picturesque” to describe Spanish moss, they have no such words to describe Ball moss. Additionally, while some people pay to purchase Spanish moss for decorative purposes, other people pay to have Ball moss removed from their trees. There is neither rhyme nor reason for the different reaction to these plants, but a different reaction there certainly is.

Here in the hill country of Texas, Ball moss hanging off Live oak trees is more common than beef brisket at a Texas barbeque. And while some hill country folk, for whatever reason, get their dander up, and go to extreme measures to get these harmless plants out of their trees, the great majority of us recognize Ball moss is a natural part of nature out here.

I like the Ball moss which hangs in abundance on my Live oak trees. In my mind, Ball moss should get the same respect among epiphytes as Spanish moss. And, while I have never had any problem with the Ball moss itself, I’ve had to repeatedly explain to visitors from up north that the “balls” in my trees were not bird nests.

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