Epiphyte or Parasite
Spanish moss is an air plant or epiphyte. These plants can pull moisture from the air. Pineapples could also survive on trees, but for ease of harvesting they are grown in the ground. They both thrive in humid areas and grow especially well near rivers and ponds. Unlike pineapples, people can cannot eat Spanish moss. Spanish moss is known botanically as Tillandsia usneoides. The stringy moss thrives in Florida and other Southern states. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep485
Important for Wildlife
Spanish moss is critical to native Florida wildlife. Many animals use it for cover to hide from predators. Two species of bats Spanish moss as day-time resting sites. Our state butterfly, the Zebra Long-wing roosts in it at night. Spanish moss is used by numerous birds for nesting material. Parula warblers and Baltimore orioles weave the moss into hanging sacks to hold eggs and young. Spanish moss is found in bluebird boxes and wren nests to provide cushioning for the eggs.
Misconceptions About Spanish Moss
Spanish moss does not penetrate trees and steal their nutrients like mistletoe does. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. Spanish moss is not parasitic, it just uses trees as a place to hang out.Spanish moss prefers high light and thrives on weak or dead trees that have lost their leaves. Many people blame the moss for killing the trees, but the trees were already unhealthy for some other reason. Poor tree health may be due to soil compaction, altered drainage, disease, or insect infestation. Once the trees start to die, Spanish moss may speed the decline because branches full of Spanish moss may shade lower leaves. The extra shading prevents the light needed for photosynthesis to get to the remaining leaves. . Keep in mind, these concerns are significant only for trees that are already in decline. Most of the time Spanish moss is completely harmless and only adds aesthetic appeal of a landscape.
Many people also think they can get chiggers from hanging Spanish moss. Chiggers are found on the ground in assorted moist foliage. So, yes you might get chiggers if you sit on moss that was already on the ground, but it is unlikely you will get chiggers from moss hanging in the trees.
Removal of Spanish Moss
If you absolutely feel you must remove Spanish moss, you can hand remove it. For small trees, use a ladder or long pole with a claw attached to it. A “cherry-picker” is may be needed for large trees. Although not generally necessary, chemical control is possible using copper-based products labeled for ball/Spanish moss. Please take note, there is evidence that copper-based herbicides and fungicides may cause damage to tender growth on oak trees. Please keep in mind to read and follow label directions carefully when using chemicals. If you choose to chemically kill the moss, the dead moss will be more unsightly than it was when it was alive, and it will still need to be removed. Use the chemical method only in the cool winter months.