In our conversation this week, Eileen Garcia-Sanchez told me all about how her preschoolers find ball moss on the oak trees. It seems dead – grey and crispy – like so much vegetation after days of scorching Texas sun. But this plant has a surprise …
If you give the dried-out balls a little water, they spring back to life! Their natural green hue returns and they seem completely alive, no longer dormant in the harsh weather.
A little about ball moss
First of all, it’s not moss. Just like starfish aren’t fish, this plant got named inaccurately. True mosses don’t have flowers, but ball moss, or Tillandsia recurvata, is in the same family of flowering plants with pineapples and bromeliads.
Bromeliads and ball moss are both epiphytes, which means they live on other plants. They aren’t parasites – they don’t take nutrients or water from their hosts. They just hitch a ride on taller plants like oak trees to get some support.
The balls that give T. recurvata are made up of several different individual plants growing together in a tangle. (The individuals are called, no joke, the “pups” of the ball moss.) Native peoples of what is now Mexico and Central America eat the flowers of ball moss, as do wild animals. (As always, though, don’t eat any wild plant until you have an expert tell you that it’s safe – and legal where the plant happens to be growing.)