Tillandsia recurvata

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ball moss
Tillandsia recurvata.jpg
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Bromeliaceae
Genus: Tillandsia
Subgenus: Diaphoranthema
Species: T. recurvata
Binomial name
Tillandsia recurvata
(L.) L., 1762
  • Renealmia recurvata L.
  • Diaphoranthema recurvata (L.) Beer
  • Tillandsia monostachya W.Bartram
  • Tillandsia uniflora Kunth
  • Diaphoranthema uniflora (Kunth) Beer
  • Tillandsia pauciflora Sessé & Moc.

Tillandsia recurvata, commonly known as Ball Moss, is a flowering plant (not a true moss) that grows upon larger host plants. It grows well in areas with low light, little airflow, and high humidity, which is commonly provided by southern shade trees, often the Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana).[3] It is not a parasite like mistletoe, but an epiphyte like its relative Spanish moss. It derives only physical support and not nutrition from its host, photosynthesizing its own food, receiving water vapor from the air,[3] and obtaining nitrogen from bacteria.[4] Ball Moss may hinder tree growth by competing for sunlight and some nutrients and by restricting available surface area for new branch sprouts from the host tree; except in stressed trees (e.g., urban settings with air pollution) it usually does not unduly affect healthy specimens.[3]

Tillandsia recurvata tends to form a spheroid shape ranging in size from a golf ball to a soccer ball. Most Ball Moss seedlings begin on tiny branches and less often on vertical bark of tree hosts, an indication that local spread of Ball Moss is mainly by seeds sprouting from bird droppings on stems of shrubs and trees. Wind is said by one authority to be the main agent of seed dispersal.[3] Ball Moss is sensitive to freezing, particularly when moist.[5]

Ball Moss can be found in the Americas, from the southern United States south to Argentina and Chile.[6] The northernmost limit of its natural occurrence is coastal Georgia (where it is listed as a State "Special Concern" species), although it has been introduced into coastal South Carolina on landscaping trees.[7] It has been reported in nature from Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Mexico, most of Central and South America, and many of the islands in the West Indies.[2][8][9]


Tillandsia recurvata can be used as animal fodder.[citation needed]


Ball Moss has shown significant anti-tumor and HIV/AIDS applications in vitro as well as in animal studies.[citation needed] Dr. Henry Lowe of Jamaica has applied for a US patent for a Ball Moss extract which induces tumorous cell death by apoptosis. [10]


  1. ^ "Tillandsia recurvata (L.) L.". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 1994-10-06. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  2. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Tillandsia recurvata
  3. ^ a b c d Crow, William T (2000). Ball Moss. The Texas Agricultural Extension Service. L-5353. Retrieved 4 May 2008. 
  4. ^ Puente, Maria-Esther and Bashan, Yoav (March 1994). "The desert epiphyte Tillandsia recurvata harbours the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Pseudomonas stutzeri". Canadian Journal of Botany 72 (3): 406–8. doi:10.1139/b94-054. 
  5. ^ Hagar, CF (1990). The effect of water content, cooling rate, and growth temperature on the freezing temperature of 4 Tillandsia species (M.S. Thesis). Texas A&M University. 
  6. ^ Correll, Donovan Stewart and Johnston, Marshall Conring (1970). Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas. Renner, Texas: Texas Research Foundation. p. 356. 
  7. ^ Weakley, Alan (2010). Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States University of North Carolina Herbarium. p161
  8. ^ Flora of North America, Tillandsia recurvata (Linnaeus) Linnaeus, Sp. Pl., ed. 2. 1: 410. 1762.
  9. ^ Biota of North America Program, 2013 county distribution map
  10. ^ Lowe, Henry (2008). Anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory extracts of plant biomass and their uses (United States Patent application). Retrieved 8 July 2008.