Ball Moss – Tree Mystery Unveiled
There is an interesting little plant that can live in the top branches of live oaks and other leafy giants commonly found in the Central Texas region. These plants are known as ball moss, but they aren’t actually a moss. The tillandsia recurvata is a flowering plant that produces seeds like any weed you might find growing in the dirt. However, it is unusual in its ability to grow right on the limb of large, established oaks. These plants are whimsical looking and can give your favorite trees a fairy tale appearance. There are many misconceptions swirling around this small tree-dwelling plant.
Appearance and Habitat of Oak Epiphytes
Many gardeners expect to see a bright green clump of recognizable moss on their trees, but the balled wonders actually look like a spiked, gray to light green ball. It can even look like a lump of scraggly grass from far away. The plant prefers the humid and shady environment found within the dense canopy of many deciduous trees. Live oaks are a very common host. Magnolias and pecans are also regularly infested. The ball moss is part of the bromeliad family, which also includes pineapples. It is known as an epiphyte, according to Texas A&M University. This term is used for the group of plants that draw nutrients and moisture from the air around them. Older specimens can grow as large as a soccer ball if conditions are right.
Are These Mossy Globes Damaging Your Trees?
Some homeowners and arborists worry that ball moss is harming the trees that act as its host. Plants like mistletoe are parasitic and draw nutrients and sugar from the branches of trees, especially oaks. This can weaken trees and kill major limbs over time. However, balled moss only uses light pseudo-roots to attach itself to the outer bark of trees. It makes no connection to the inner wood and doesn’t draw any energy from the host. All of the needs of the ball moss are provided by the air around it. The Round Rock, Texas Cooperative Extension says that a few scattered pieces are nothing to be concerned about.
However, this doesn’t mean that this cute little bromeliad can’t eventually cause damage to live oak or other trees. With the right conditions, an entire limb may end up covered in tiny clumps of the plant. The mossy little balls can block out every inch, preventing the branch from putting out leaves and gathering the sunlight it needs to stay alive. If you have a large Texas oak that is accumulating large clumps on every branch, you may want to have it removed. Excess weight from the biggest plants usually lead to limbs falling if they die or are already damaged from another issue.
Damage to Trees; Real or Imagined?
Many trees often appear to be damaged by these mossy pests when the affected branches are already damaged and dying before the infestation occurs. The limbs in the damp and dark inner canopy usually die out on live oaks and other trees because the upper branches block out the light. There’s no reason to blame the balled nuisance for problems caused by other things.
Mossy Ball Control Methods – Simple and Effective
If you simply don’t like the messy look of a tree covered in clumps of spikes, you can have the plants removed or killed by a professional tree service. Ask the team to trim off any damaged branches during the clean up so the tree remains healthy and strong for years to come. Some options for control include hand picking and water removal. Hand picking does the least damage to your beloved shady wonders, but it requires multiple workers spending hours cleaning out the branches. The Lazy Gardener website warns that it can be too expensive for many homeowners.
Other companies use pressure washers with clean water to knock clumps out of the branches. This can do a little damage to the smaller limbs but is quick and has little impact on the environment. Copper-based fungicide treatments are also available for killing the ball moss. These toxic sprays need to be carefully applied to avoid damage to other plants. Grass and shrubs around the tree are usually covered to prevent damage. This is not the best option if you are working on a limb right next to your home or driveway because the copper leaves a blue or green stain on these surfaces.
To learn more about avoiding damage or riding ball moss from your tree call 512-401-8733 or complete the free quote form in the upper right-hand side of the page.