Ball Moss: Don’t Let It Get A Hold Of Your Tree!

If you live in the Greater Austin Area, then it’s a safe bet that you have seen ball moss, at one time or another.  Have you ever wondered exactly what you’re looking at, and whether or not it can harm the trees you see it in?  Let’s try to “get to the root” of what you’ve observed.

About Ball Moss

First off, Ball Moss, Tillandsia recurvata, while certainly appearing to be a ball-like growth, of sorts, in the trees, is actually not a moss.  In fact, Ball Moss is in the Bromeliaceae Family, a Family that includes the familiar Pineapple.  It is an epiphyte, which means it does not grow in the soil but, rather, it anchors itself on a structure to gain support.  Its roots, called “pseudo roots,” are used to anchor itself to its host.  (The beautiful orchid, so prized by flower lovers, also has epiphyte members in its family.)  The pseudo roots are not used to gather moisture and nutrients.  Ball moss gets its moisture from the air, nutrients from windblown dust, and fixes its nitrogen using available bacteria in the tree.  It uses photosynthesis to produce its own energy.

Ball moss reproduces by true seed production. Most seedlings germinate on tiny branches or on the vertical bark of tree hosts. As with many other epiphyte seeds, most researchers believe ball moss seeds are dispersed by the wind. Some believe birds serve as a major seed dispersal agent. The seeds are armed with fine, straight hairs that aid in attachment to potential host species.

Is Ball Moss a Parasite?

So, is ball moss harmful to trees?  Strictly speaking, since ball moss is not a true parasite (an invader that draws nutrients from a host species), it is not harmful to its tree hosts.  However, let’s not be too quick to dismiss ball moss as being OK for your tree’s health and continued survival.

Ball moss prefers high humidity, low light, low airflow conditions.  These exact conditions are present in trees that are never pruned (trimmed).  Over time, if ball moss thrives, it can come to dominate a tree’s above-ground surface.  What happens, then, is that the tree’s branches receive less light to stimulate new growth.  With reduced growth, reduced leaves, the tree loses more and more of its photosynthetic capabilities, leading to less energy production for growth and immune response.  The tree then becomes locked into a downward mortality spiral which, ultimately, leads to declining health and death.  It should be noted, here, that some researchers also believe that ball moss can compete for trace nutrients and moisture in the canopy, as well as shading the tree’s growth areas.

Happy Tree Service of Austin Can Help

With all of the above in mind, should you see ball moss in your trees, we encourage you to contact us at Happy Tree Service of Austin.  Our skilled crew is ready, willing and able to help rid your tree of ball moss, by mechanical means:  We trim and prune the tree to remove the deadwood that provides ideal growing areas for ball moss.  We also climb into the high canopy and pick the ball moss off.  While doing this, we trim your tree to encourage lower humidity, more airflow and more light penetration.  That discourages future ball moss growth.

We can guarantee that a majority of your ball moss will be gone by the time we’re done with your job.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about ball moss. Please give us a call whenever you have concerns about the continued good health of your trees!

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