Bearded and crusted trees disturbing to some
Published: Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 12:28 p.m.
A few years ago, I took a call from a lady who was relatively new to Florida. She was very concerned about the Spanish moss growing on trees in the area. She said she was going to make it her life's mission to rid Marion County of all the Spanish moss, starting with Highway 475.
I informed her that Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is an epiphyte, and it does not harm the tree, it only attaches itself to a host for support and protection. Spanish moss is a natural occurrence in the South, and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air through scales on its leaves.
Spanish moss can be found on deciduous and evergreen trees. Preferred trees have almost horizontal branches, a significant number of forked branches and rough bark that can catch and retain the seeds the Spanish moss produces. Common host species in Florida include live oaks, pecans and hackberry. Fences, telephone lines and other non-living structures also serve as hosts. Spanish moss prefers trees that are in decline. The sparse foliage provides the well-lighted environment it needs. Sometimes the tree can become so heavily laden with Spanish moss that limbs eventually break.
Can you imagine how much work would be involved in removing all that Spanish moss from the oak trees in Marion County? Before getting to the end of Highway 475, she would probably have to start all over again.
If you have Spanish moss on your trees, try to determine the cause of the decline or stress. Trees and shrubs can become stressed due to lack of, or too much, water, compaction of the soil in the drip line of the tree (the area in which the roots extend), poor fertility or even insect or disease problems. Identify and remove the source of the stress, and try to nurture your tree back to health with a proper water and fertilizer regimen.
If you have small trees and shrubs, remove as much of the Spanish moss as you possibly can. A number of copper-based herbicides and fungicides are available on the market that can be used to spray the trees. Always read and follow the directions on the pesticide label. For more information on Spanish moss, visit http://polkhort.ifas.ufl.edu/documents/publications/Ball%20moss.pdf.
Another problem that is very common in the landscape is lichens growing on the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs. Lichen is a plant with an alga and fungus growing together. The lichen anchors itself on the plant and appears as a greyish-green, crusty growth or hairy structure growing on the tree or shrub. Like Spanish moss, lichens do not harm the tree, but are very unsightly. It also is an indication that the plant has been stressed, so identify and remove the source of the stress. Lichens can be removed with a stiff-bristled brush, if desired. Otherwise, no control is necessary.
Now that I've whetted your appetite for gardening knowledge, contact the UF/IFAS Extension office near you for a list of upcoming educational opportunities.
Norma Samuel is the Urban Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.