The egret perched on the red bridge is the focus of this photograph, but what intrigued me in this cypress swamp was the Spanish moss. Spanish moss is a strange plant. It has no roots. Its leaves look like stems. It has tiny, inconspicuous flowers. It looks dead.
A ghostly gray color, Spanish moss hangs from trees like tattered shrouds. Although it sometimes almost engulfs the trees it lives on, Spanish moss is not a parasite. The main damage it does is block light from the tree leaves, slowing the tree’s growth. The burden of the extra Spanish moss foliage also makes the trees less wind-resistant and more prone to falling during hurricanes.
Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoidesis, is an epiphyte, which means it absorbs nutrients (especially calcium) and water from the air and rainfall. Spanish moss is also known as “air plant”.
Several kinds of creatures, including rat snakes and three species of bats, live in Spanish moss. One species of jumping spider, Pelegrina tillandsiae, has been found only on Spanish moss. Spanish moss is found in the humid, warmer climates of southeastern United States. It was also introduced to Hawaii, where it is known as a Pele’s Hair, after the Hawaiian goddess and is sometimes used in leis.
I took this photograph in a botanical garden near Charleston, South Carolina. The egret was kind enough to pose for me.