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45. KRULIK, GERALD, Pests of Spanish Moss, PUP TALK (Saddleback Valley Bromeliad Society), 15
(3), p.4-6, March, 2008. CLICK TO RETURN TO PAGE 2 OF LIST OF TALKS
CLICK TO RETURN TO PAGE 1 OF LIST OF TALKS
SEE THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE FOR
45A. "CULTURAL THOUGHTS ON A COLD RAINY DAY, page 7, same issue.
Pests of Spanish Moss
By Jerry Krulik
Tillandsia usneoides, or Spanish Moss, is a strange bromeliad. No other bromeliad grows in loose
hanging clusters of chains of tiny stems, up to 25 feet long. There are 30 species in the Tillandsia
subgenus grouping called Dianphoranthema, of which T. usneoides is a member. None of the
others form hanging chains, so T. usneoides is unique. (1)
No other bromeliad has such a huge natural distribution, from southern Virginia to Argentina. No
other bromeliad occurs naturally so far north into the temperate zone. It has even been given its
own generic name, with only the single species in it. This was Dendropogon usneoides.
Dendropogon means ‘tree beard’ in Greek. Usneoides means like Usnea, a wispy type of lichen
found on plants in high humidity areas. There are more than 600 species of Usnea at present, many
of which look a lot like Spanish Moss. Here is an unidentified species of Usnea. (2)
Various web sites quote the flower color as being green, yellow, yellow-green, or blue. I have never
seen a blue flower. According to one web site, blue and red flowers are hoaxes. Bright yellow
flowers do exist, from at least a Peruvian population. (3)
One somewhat odd feature of Spanish Moss is that it appears, at least in cultivation in California, to
have no pests of any kind. It grows quickly and easily, needing only sufficient water. I have never
heard of anyone complaining of anything attacking it. Perhaps, though, this is due to the fact that
Southern California is not in its natural area of distribution. Many plants, like Eucalyptus and
Oleander, thrive here like weeds; at least until recent times when the Eucalyptus stem borer and
lerp psyllid have devastated the groves. Likewise the Oleander has greatly decreased in
abundance, after a leafhopper and a fatal yellowing virus were apparently introduced from Florida.
So perhaps we are just lucky, so far.
I did a series of internet searches, and found a number of interesting things to share. For example,
several websites mentioned that a mold had attacked Spanish Moss in the 1970’s in the southeast
USA. This greatly decreased the Tillandsia population. Later the mold problem disappeared, and the
Spanish Moss recovered. I could not find any scientific identification of this mold
(4), and no more recent reports of this problem. I also did not find any mention of mold attack on
other native Tillandsias.
Next I thought about scale insects. These are some of the tiniest bugs, and would seem to be right
at home on the thin stems of Spanish Moss. The web sites I searched led me to see that there are
over five thousand named species of scales. I did locate one which sounded promising, Epidiaspis
tillandsiae. This pest was described in 1972, but I don’t know if it occurs on Spanish Moss. No other
information seems to be available. One problem with scales is that they can be pretty hard to locate
unless there is a major infestation. Several web references gave lists of invertebrates found in
Spanish Moss. The normal way to find these is to knock off all bugs into a container, or to poison
the plant first and them knock off the dead bugs for counting. Scale insects cannot be located that
way since they will not release from the plant even when dead, so would not be likely to be found
unless many stems were checked under a hand lens.
Their bigger scale insect cousins are called mealies or mealy bugs. I was surprised that the only
reference to a mealy bug infestation of Spanish Moss, was at a German botanical garden in
Dresden. Orthezia tillandsiae is actually a soft scale, a close relative of the mealies. It looks like a
mealy bug due to wax plates and egg sacs on its body. (5) The only other reference to these bugs
as pests, says that they are small tubular insects that lie along the stem. That would mean that the
oval white mass is an egg mass at one end of the mealy bug, which looks like a long piece of leaf.
Here is the only available photo. (6)
Several people have studied the invertebrate fauna of Spanish Moss. No particular associations
turned up, except for two non-insect species. Several people mentioned ‘red bugs’ or chiggers.
These are not an insect but a type of mite, related to spiders. They quite seriously said that the best
way to get rid of red bugs is to put the Spanish Moss into a microwave, and cook it for a very short
time! They said that if the time was short, the plant was unharmed and the chiggers were killed.
Since chiggers only feed on skin cells, and chiggers are common on many types of vegetation in
the right season, their association with Spanish Moss would not appear to be significant. Here are
two red chiggers, or red bugs. (7)
I also assume that some type of spider mite can be found on Spanish Moss, though again I did not
find any specific references. I have plenty of spider mite around my house and yard, but have never
seen any of their telltale webbing on the Spanish Moss.
Let’s talk about spiders now. Recent work in South America has shown that many types of spiders
are only found on certain bromeliads. In some cases, fieldwork has shown that the plants benefit
from being fertilized by the waste products of the spiders. It now appears that there is an earlier
association known of spiders and Spanish Moss. One species of spider, Pelegrina tillandsiae
Kaston, 1973 , has only been found in Spanish Moss. (8) It is a jumping spider, just like most of the
bromeliad-specific South American spiders. Too bad no one has done any work to study this spider
and its association. It is so little studied that no photo of this species appears on the web. Here is a
related species from Costa Rica. (9) Note that this photo shows both male and female spider. Many
jumping spiders have males and females that are quite different in appearance.
I found one final pest of T. usneoides . I have occasionally seen, in California, an unusual bug. It is
colorful, and looks like a medium-sized fly of some strange type. It turns out that it is actually a day
flying moth. There are many species, so the one I think I have seen in California is probably not
associated with bromeliads. However, there is one species in the SE US, which has been recently
found to eat Spanish Moss. Here is a photo of the caterpillar of Dahana atripennis, on a Tillandsia
usneoides stem. (10)
© Jeff Slotten, 2003.
The adult moth is very colorful, like many lichen moths. The soft body is orange or sometimes
yellow, with metallic blue triangles at its waist. The long swept-back wings look very like the double
wings of some flies, shiny black with two small orange splotches. The thorax is blue-black, but the
head is orange, with thick black antennae. This picture of the colorful adult is from the bug guide
web site. This is a member of the Tiger and Lichen Moth Family, members of which commonly eat
lichens as larvae. I venture
© Mike Boone 2004
to propose, that the ancestor of this moth fed on Usnea lichens, and then got confused and tried
Spanish Moss by mistake. This is one pest which I wouldn’t mind sharing my Spanish Moss with. I
have never seen this moth, or Spanish Moss, mentioned in any gardening books about setting up a
This led me to a dedicated moth photo web site, where I was astounded by the many colorful
species, some looking just like wasps and bees. (12)
The distribution map for D. atripennis only shows it to be occurring from Florida to Texas, so I must
have seen its relatives here in California. (13)
That is all I could find on Spanish Moss pests. Note that most information I found is related to the US
population. I suspect that many more pests of T. usneoides will be identified as ecologists study the
extremely widespread populations, especially in Central and South America.
(See my website at www.aecphotos.com, for all my articles and color photos. Click the button
5. Voigt, D. 2000. [Infestation of Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides L.) by the ensign scale Orthezia
tillandsiae Morrison (Homoptera: Ortheziidae) and the possibilities of their biological control at the
Botanical Garden of the Technical University of Dresden.] (In German with summary in English).
Gesunde Pflanzen 52(5): 148-155.
10. http://www.daltonstate.edu/galeps/webpages/arctiidae/Datripennis.htm. Larva on Spanish Moss
(Tillandsia usneoides), © Jeff Slotten, 2003.
11. http://www.daltonstate.edu/galeps/webpages/arctiidae/Datripennis.htm. Adult of Dahana
tillandsiae © Mike Boone, 2004. Also at http://bugguide.net/node/view/7366.
45A. CULTURAL THOUGHTS ON A COLD, RAINY DAY, page 7
I just spent several hours in my long-neglected, rain-soaked, weed infested, and rat infested yard. The
rats have been eating the soft bases of many bulbous plants, leaving the stalks behind to yellow in the
rain. First, a paen of praise to the unappreciated and long neglected savant, perhaps in ancient Crete,
who invented the hot soaking bath tub! Some of you who have fairly long memories, may remember all
the damage that was done the last time we had long continuous soaking rains. Remember that many
bromeliads do not like have water continuously in their tanks, especially in cold gloomy weather. You
should empty the tanks regularly, to help prevent them rotting off. If you lack time to do this, you might
consider the old screwdriver trick. Just punch a hole through the base of the tanks, and let the water
automatically drain. These holes are almost unnoticeable and will disappear in the summer. This trick
helps keep down mosquitoes too. Also check wherever you grow Spanish Moss. The winds and rain
often throw strings of plants on the ground, where they will simultaneously die of continuous wet, and
smother the underlying plants. This is a great time to prune those large clusters of Spanish Moss, but
remember to save all the cuttings for the April plant sale.