A Walk in Fern Bluff Park
March 10-11, 2001
Page 5
Archives of previous walks in the park: 12 May 2007 05 May 2007; 28 April 2007, 21 April 2007, 14 April 2007,  1 April 2007 Easter Egg Hunt; 24 March 2007,  17 March 2007; Nov. 03, 2001; April 04, 2001; March 25, 15, 10-11, 04, 2001; February 2418, 10, 2001

Most members of the Pineapple Family, including ball moss, are epiphytes, attaching themselves to limbs, tree trunks, power lines, fences and many other structures with pseudo-roots. These do not absorb water and minerals, but merely attach the plant to an aerial structure. It is not parasitic.

Ball moss absorbs water and nutrients from the atmosphere through its leaves and stem. Consequently, it prefers sites with little air movement, low light, and high relative humidity. The growth habit and thick canopy of the live oak, particularly in the most densely forested part of the park, provides the ideal habitat for this plant.

This was our mystery flower for this walk in the park. Additional photos were taken on Sunday, and an interesting thing had happened since our visit on Saturday afternoon. As the image below shows, the flower head has separated into two distinct sections, in a process called dichotomous branching. It made me wonder if we have seen everything this plant has to offer. The flower heads are subtended on individual stems, and these will probably continue to develop. Into what? Could the whitish, indistinct objects in the flower heads be additional flower buds?

 

Note the linear flutes, or grooves, on the stem. Is this a clue to its identity? Later, this plant was identified as Corn Salad (Valerianella spp.). I rashly identified what was thought to be the species, but Monique Reed gently rapped my knuckles, kindly pointing out the fact that species determination is almost impossible without mature fruit to examine. We will monitor these to the fruiting stage, and go from there.

Several trees in Fern Bluff Park sport small balls of sage-colored mossy "stuff" that looks like it must be bad for the tree. This idea is reinforced by the fact that most of the limbs that have this plant growing on them are dead, leading the casual observer to conclude that the plant killed the limb. That is not the case. Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata), shown in the photo at left, from a Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) in the northwestern sector of the park, is a small, nondescript plant that actually benefits the environment by "fixing" atmospheric nitrogen and adding it to the soil, much like alfalfa and clover. 

Unfortunately, it is a much misunderstood, and therefore despised plant which is aggressively eradicated. Ball moss is not a moss, but a true plant with flowers and seeds. The flower (below) is not what you might expect, but consists of a tubular yellow-green swelling at the end of a long, wiry green stem emanating from the midst of the ball. Ball moss is a member of the Pineapple Family (Bromeliaceae). 

In the photo at left, several plants crowned with tiny white flowers are shown. These were photographed in the northeast sector of the park, at its boundary. Be careful as you examine these specimens, as they are surrounded by Cacti with long spikes (the voice of experience speaketh).

A close-up side view of one of the separated flower heads is shown below.

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Bugsinthenews ... Blue Flower Gallery ... White Flower Gallery ... Yellow Flower Gallery pg. 1

Archives of previous walks in the park: 12 May 2007 05 May 2007; 28 April 2007, 21 April 2007, 14 April 2007,  1 April 2007 Easter Egg Hunt; 24 March 2007,  17 March 2007; Nov. 03, 2001; April 04, 2001; March 25, 15, 10-11, 04, 2001; February 2418, 10, 2001