Louisianians are probably familiar with Spanish moss, but they may not be aware of ball moss.
Like Spanish moss, ball moss is an epiphyte and belongs to family Bromeliaceae, says LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Raj Singh. It’s an air plant that’s not a true moss but rather a small flowering plant, Singh said. It is neither a pathogen nor a parasite.
“During the past couple of years, ball moss has increasingly been colonizing trees and shrubs including oaks, pines, magnolias, crape myrtles, Bradford pears and other trees on the LSU campus and surrounding areas in Baton Rouge,” Singh says.
In addition to trees and shrubs, ball moss can attach itself to fences, electric poles and other structures with the help of pseudo-roots.
When it uses a tree as a surface to grow, it does not derive any nutrients or water from it. Rather, ball moss is a true plant and derives its food through water and nutrients from the environment.
Ball moss spreads to new locations both by wind-dispersed seeds and movement of small vegetative parts of the plant. It gets its moss-like appearance from the hair-like growth on the leaves.
Blue-to-violet flowers emerge on long central stem during spring, Singh says.
Ball moss may colonize both healthy and stressed trees, but it is more visible on stressed trees, Singh said. Heavy infestation of ball moss may break small twigs or limbs. It also may stress the host indirectly by restricting the surface area for new sprouts or growth.
Management of ball moss is generally not required if trees or shrubs are lightly infested. Trees that are completely covered with ball moss, however, will need proper care, Singh said.
“Although labor-intensive, hand picking is the most effective method to remove ball moss from small trees or shrubs,” he said. “Pruning twigs and branches covered with ball moss may restore the affected trees.”
Good practices that promote vigorously growing, healthy trees with dense canopies are also recommended, he said.
Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.