Gardening Magazine

Growing a Beard

By Gardenamateur
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.

Growing a beard

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

Growing a beard

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

Growing a beard

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

Growing a beard

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. 
Growing a beard
Growing a beard
Growing a beardGrowing a beard

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