Florida, the sunshine state and most southeastern state in the United States of America, has one of the most beautifully diverse plant lives. From flowers to shrubs to trees and all the in-betweens, Florida’s sunshine-rich climate has the perfect conditions for plants to thrive. Moreover, there is one common plant that occasionally takes over Florida trees; it’s called moss.
Moss is a non-vascular flowering plant, an epiphyte that grows on Florida trees. Most commonly, you’ll find Spanish moss, ball moss, and lichens on your Florida trees. If you see moss on your tree, you don’t need to remove it unless the weight of the moss is putting pressure on the tree branch.
Moss is commonly seen in Florida climates because it provides the perfect climatic conditions for it to flourish, and today, we’re going to talk about why it happens, what you can do – but first, let’s talk basics.
What is Tree Moss?
Moss is a green patchy and spongey growth that you sometimes see on plants, and it can even grow on pavements. Moss is part of the Bromeliad family of plants and is a non-vascular, growing from spores and growing when climate conditions are just right.
The Bromeliad family of plants consists of moss, pineapples, and succulents! I know.
On plants, moss will grow on its own in a moist and shady area. Moss grows rapidly whether it’s on a hard surface like bark, or pavement, or on a plant. Moss can grow in large amounts and can prosper in a 6-week period.
Moss will also grow well in acidic, shady soil coverage and can cover entire landscaping and gardens. Although moss may seem like a problem, in more cases than not, moss does not provide any harm to trees and plants directly. However, it can indirectly cause breakage or weakness in the trees.
Moss Grows on Most Trees
Believe it or not, moss grows on trees specifically because the environment allows it. Moss loves a shady and moist area and a bark of a tree – well, that’s environmentally perfect.
Moss needs a surface to grow on, and the bark of a tree provides not only a shady spot because of the tree’s canopy but also provides a damp, dark area.
On trees like White Oaks that have deeper fissures in their barks, you will see moss – as the fissures become an excellent growing spot, with its dark, moist grooves.
However, contrary to popular belief, moss does not anchor itself to a tree, nor is it stuck to a tree – Spanish moss, for instance, actually grows in a draping way so that it attaches and hooks on to the branches and limbs of trees. Without its draping nature, moss will frankly – just fall off.
When dealing with moss – the climate is the most important factor, and that’s why you often see it on Florida trees.
Why Does Tree Moss Grow in Florida?
Florida is humid – I know, shocking, right? There is nothing like the Florida sun and nothing like the Florida heat, and its famous city – Miami – is considered to be one of the hottest cities in the United States! I guess the truth of the matter is – Florida is just that much closer to the equator, and this is one of the contributing factors to its climate.
The Floridian climate is considered mostly subtropical; however, the southern tip is considered tropical. Florida has relatively mild winters and hot-hot summers, perfect for moss growth.
Believe it or not, in northern parts of Florida, people can actually see snow from time to time. Florida also experiences a ton of rain, and weather snow or rain or just hot and humid days, Florida’s weather patterns all have one thing in common – a lot of moisture.
The reason why Florida becomes such an amazing breeding ground for moss is that it’s mostly surrounded by water, which creates all-year moisture in the air, even if the temperatures are somewhat mild! With all that moisture in the air, you can say that moss has an endless supply of water available.
Since Florida is surrounded by water, that is also why it has extreme weather conditions like hurricanes and tropical storms. Being close to the equator, being surrounded by water, and being a generally humid state because of its high temperatures – Florida is like paradise for moss.
Moss Loves Florida Trees
Moss not only loves humidity, but moss needs humidity to survive. And there isn’t a more humid state than Florida, well, at least on the East Coast. Moss grows specifically from the water that’s in the air and needs a continuous supply of water to reproduce.
Moss is commonly seen on Florida trees because of Florida’s humid climate conditions.
Moss is non-vascular; it does not have any veins or roots to obtain the water. Because of this, when water passes over the moss in the air, the moss drinks up the water from the permeable scales that are on its foliage. The water helps moss grow and spread, and Florida’s humidity is perfect for moss to form.
Moss also needs nutrients, and with a combination of dust particles in the air and debris that collects on plants – it’s able to obtain its nutrients to survive.
Florida has a diverse tree population, many of which are perfect for moss to lay its hands on.
Trees That Grow in Florida (& That Have Moss)
Florida is home to many native trees – actually, Florida has more native trees than any other state in the United States of America! Right? I know, we were shocked too. When you think of Florida, your brain instantly goes to Palm trees – and yes, there are so many palm trees, but that’s just one out of hundreds of tree variations that live there.
Florida’s tree population is made up of hickory, elm, ash, maple, magnolia, basswood, locust, pine, gum, and oak trees. They also have tropical trees like Palm trees and White Bird of Paradise seen throughout the state.
Although the tree population is diverse, moss doesn’t have a favorite tree – you can find moss growing wherever the climate allows it.
Now, I know what you may be thinking – does moss actually grow on Palm trees? And the answer is – well, keep on reading to find out.
Can Moss Grow on Palm Trees?
Fun fact – Moss can grow on Palm trees; well actually, moss does grow on Palm trees. Moss grows on Palm trees so frequently that it actually has its own species of moss apart from the Bromeliad family – Hypnodendron Comosum.
Hypnodendron Comosum is a ground moss that grows specifically on Palm trees. It is divided into two varieties, Hypnodenron Comosum Var and Hypnodenron Comosum Sieberi – both of which are similar in nature except the var, is smaller and more compact.
Now we know the type of moss that grows on palms – what other types of moss are there?
What Kind of Moss Grows on Florida Trees?
There are about 350 different species of moss and around 60 species of moss alone in Florida. However, there are two main types of moss that you can find on Florida trees.
Spanish moss is the most popular moss in the southern states of the USA and is easily recognizable because of its pendant strands. Think of a chandelier or a light fixture to get a good visual – it often hangs from a tree’s branches and limbs.
Spanish moss is native to Mexico – and it can grow in any tropical environment like in the Caribbean, Florida, and in South America. It is also seen in the West Indies and in Arkansas, Texas, and Virginia.
Spanish moss is an epiphyte, which means it does not need another plant for nourishment – it just grows on top of other plants.
Like all moss, Spanish moss loves moist environments. However, its ability to trap water can help it survive during dryer seasons.
Fun fact – Spanish moss actually used to be used for stuffing automobile seats, furniture, and installation in homes! Today, it is widely used for mulch.
Animals love Spanish moss, and birds especially will make their nest within it! Because of its clumping nature, Spanish moss is the perfect hideaway for bats, reptiles, and amphibians.
And truth be told – Spanish moss does not harm your tree at all! Spanish moss has nothing to directly do with the tree’s health, and if your tree seems to be declining – there may be an underlying condition that needs to be looked into.
The only thing Spanish moss can indirectly do to your tree is create extra weight on its branches, and in time, the weight may get be too heavy for the branch to hold.
Ball moss is another variation of moss that grows on top of plants. However, Ball moss is a much smaller type of moss. Ball moss grows in small clumps from 6-10 inches, and you can find it not only on plants and branches but on telephone wires too!
Ball moss is created from tiny seeds that fly in the air and land on nearby trees and structures. Once the seeds stick, the moss is formed, and they develop pseudo-roots which keeps them attached to the surface it’s on.
If you don’t want the Ball moss sticking around, you can easily remove it by pruning and picking – but it is never actually imperative to remove – unless you don’t like the look of it!
Much like Spanish moss, Ball moss does not cause harm to your tree – in fact, when Ball moss dies and falls to the ground, it actually provides your tree with nutrients and becomes a natural, organic fertilizer!
Not directly a moss; however, Lichens are another type of epiphyte that grows on Florida trees. The only similarity Lichens has to moss is that it does not take nutrients from its host. Lichens are a fungus and algae mix that is commonly seen on Florida trees.
Lichens grow a crusty, white, leaf-like growth on tree trunks, barks, and branches. Much like moss, it is not bad for your tree – however, it can be unpleasing to see.
Should You Remove Moss from Your Tree?
The answer is – it depends on what you like! If you like the look of moss – keep it there – it does not cause any harm to your trees! If you don’t like the look, well, that’s a whole other story – get ahead of the moss and remove it before it grows out of control!
The thing is that moss will not hurt your tree directly. The problem that occurs is if the moss gets too heavy and puts weight on the branches.
Specifically, with larger moss variations like Spanish moss, because of its hanging nature, the more it hangs, the more weight is being applied to the branch or tree, which can then potentially pull down on the tree. If the moss is growing high up within the tree, it can possibly intertwine with branches and leaves and cause limbs to break off.
If you are having any of these problems, there are some things you can do to remove moss successfully.
How to Get Rid of Moss on Trees
There are many different ways to get rid of moss, and some are pretty easy and quickly effective!
When moss is green, that means it is alive and flourishing. However, it seems to be gray or white, which means it is dead – it can be more easily removed.
Use a Soft Brush or Broom to Remove Moss
Preferably when the tree is dormant, moss can be removed with a scrub brush or broom. Gently scrubbing the moss on the branches or trunks with the brush or broom and adding some pressure where needed can be just the thing.
If the moss isn’t budging, you may need to add a spray remover as well.
Use a Spray Moss Removal
Moss can be a pain sometimes, so if it’s not budging by just brushing it, you, unfortunately, may need to kill off the moss and add some spray removal into the mix.
A great spray to try out is BioAdvanced Moss and Algae Killer, as it won’t damage any surrounding trees, grass, or shrubs in the area! It’s gentle enough to be used with other plants around but tough enough on moss!
Using the spray, try to coat as much of the moss as possible, and then let it sit for a few hours for lighter moss, or if it’s on the heavier side and really grown – you may have to wait a few days for it to start working.
Once the spray works, you will notice the moss starting to change into that gray, ashy color, and from there – it’s time to grab the brush and try to scrub it away!
Pressure Wash the Tree to Remove Moss
The thing about moss is that the larger it gets, and the more widespread it grows – the more out of hand it is! So, if your moss has reached those out-of-hand levels, and you just can’t stand the sight of it anymore – it’s time to regain control!
Using a pressure washer can be a fast, simplistic, and organic way to remove pesky moss – especially in those hard-to-reach places.
Apply the pressurized water with a long hose to the biggest spots of moss first. Loosen them up and keep applying the water until it starts to fall off the tree, or if you see it wash away from the bark. Move on to the smaller clumps and keep spraying until you get your desired result.
However, never use a pressure washer on a young tree – as the pressure may be too much for it to withstand. Also, be careful not to peel barks or damaged branches when using the pressure washer.
If you’re in need of a pressure washer – check out Sun Joe High-Pressure Washer! It’s electric and provides a great amount of pressure that will help you get into all those nooks and crannies.
Wrapping it Up!
Moss can be one of the most beautiful features of a tree and can truly give character and a sense of regality to the tree. But the truth of the matter is – moss is a personal preference and very rarely causes direct harm to any living host that it is on.
Moss comes in all shapes and all sizes and doesn’t discriminate when it comes to picking a tree for its home!
“ENH1224/EP485: Spanish Moss, Ball Moss, and Lichens – Harmless Epiphytes.” AskIFAS Powered by EDIS, edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/ep485.
“Illinois Bryophytes .” Illinois.Gov , www2.illinois.gov/dnr/publications/Documents/00000676.pdf.
Download My Free E-Book!
If you’re new to planting or want a refresher, take a peek at my guide on choosing and planting your very first tree. It specifically details planting trees in your yard and goes over the wide variety of options you have to start your #treejourney!