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Contrary

October 1, 2010

There’s one in every group, one that marches to the beat of a different drummer. Plants usually grow up in search of light but this perennial has found its’ light another way. Spanish moss or Tillandsia usneoides grows down…down through the cypress trees, down into the light, down into the breezes that spread their seed. Tiny green flowers growing in the axils of the leaves pollinated by wind or insect, I don’t know which; create a long, dehiscent seed pod. When the pod ripens, it explodes, propelling seeds with hairy sails. From time to time the wind blows the delicate plant toward limbs where they clasp on with their rough scales, creating a decorative swag from limb to limb and continue to grow down like water pouring over the trees. They are usually found on cypress, oak and sometimes pine here in south Florida. It is not a moss at all but an epiphyte and a plant dependant on its host plant for support not food. Unlike other aerial plants this one does not have any roots. The blue gray scales on the leaves called trichomes have the ability to soak up nutrients, including water and to conserve moisture during periods of drought.
The pendulous clumps of these soft plants become homes for the yellow throated and northern parula warblers. Other birds use the plant for nesting material. Bats roost in them and there is a jumping spider that also calls it home. Sometimes they become so thick on a branch that when wet, can cause it to break. Over time the growth can actually cut off the light needed by the trees that it uses for support, causing them to weaken. Native Americans found many uses for this plant that include using it as a tea for fevers, the fresh fibers for padding and sponges and the stripped fibers for cordage. Currently, it is used in the plant trade and as stuffing for furniture. I enjoy watching it pour over and down through the swamp.
Being contrary definitely has its’ place.

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