So you are wondering, can Spanish moss be used for orchids?
It is a question I see asked now and again, and I think sometimes it arises from confusion and sometimes from genuine intrigue.
Spanish moss does have its benefits for orchids, but also its drawbacks, in this article we will look at both sides of the argument and delve a little deeper into the details of the plant.
So let’s begin.
Can Spanish Moss Be Used For Orchids?
Spanish moss can be attached to or wrapped around the roots of any orchid that has its roots exposed. It helps hold in moisture and prevents them from drying out. It should not be used as a potting medium for orchids though as it decays very quickly and would increase the likelihood of root rot for your orchid.
Is Spanish Moss the Same As Sphagnum Moss?
Before we deal with the question of whether Spanish moss can be used for orchids, it is important we clear one thing up.
Spanish moss and Sphagnum moss are not the same thing, in fact, they are quite different.
I say this because I did see a few people mixing them up on some gardening forums when I was doing some research into this article.
Spanish moss is a plant on its own and it is alive, it is nothing like the dried Sphagnum moss we often use with orchids.
In fact, despite its name, Spanish moss isn’t actually a moss. It is an epiphyte like orchids are.
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It grows upon other plants like a tree, dangling from tree branches and is commonly found in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Compare this to Sphagnum moss, which grows low to the ground.
In the United States you can find it in the Southern part of the country and on the west side up to and around Texas and Arkansas.
Outside of the US, it is generally found in countries that lie near the equator, where there are high levels of humidity.
This is in stark contrast to Sphagnum moss which grows in cool, moist marsh areas and bogs or wetlands where winter freezes occur.
The technical name of Spanish moss is Tillandsia usneoides, it is an air plant and, as you can see, has completely different needs and different growing conditions to Sphagnum moss.
So as you can see, when it comes to Spanish moss vs Sphagnum moss, there are some fundamental differences.
But let’s dive into the main question now.
The Benefits of Spanish Moss for Orchids
It is Great For Bare Rooted Orchids
Spanish moss retains humidity and prevents aerial roots from drying out.
For vanda orchids or any orchid that has its bare roots exposed, it can be particularly beneficial.
Attaching Spanish moss to the roots, or draping it around them or their baskets provides a slight micro-climate of higher humidity and helps hold in moisture.
This means less watering for you and less chance of the aerial roots drying out.
As Spanish moss is also quite airy, then at the same time the orchid will receive great air circulation.
It Provides Good Levels of Shade
The long and stringy nature of Spanish moss also benefits orchids when it comes to providing some shade.
Orchids are shade-loving plants and too much direct sunlight can be harmful to them.
So lots of gardeners use Spanish moss to provide some respite from the sun for their orchids, whilst again still allowing air to circulate.
In fact, Robert Friend sang the praises of the plant in his book Growing Orchids in Your Garden, saying:
“The most beneficial companion for a newly attached orchid is a drape of the so-called Spanish moss, which is the bromeliad Tillandsia usneoides. This most useful plant, which consists of a tangle of curly, mosslike strands, provides a humid, nurturing microclimate around the newly affixed orchid. It also provides a modicum of shade and wind protection when draped around the base of the plant from which new growths and roots will emerge.”
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It is Great for Decorative Purposes
When it comes to most orchids though, Spanish moss is generally used for decorative purposes.
It doesn’t dry out and turn brown, it retains humidity and lets air through, and when used on top of the soil it provides a nice, wild look.
Drawbacks of Spanish Moss for Orchids
It is Not A Good Potting Medium
Whilst Spanish moss works well for decorative purposes and for retaining moisture in any orchid that has its roots exposed, it is not a good potting medium for orchids at all.
Spanish moss decays very quickly, so if you used it as a potting medium it would break down, and in combination with its ability to retain moisture, this would lead to root rot in your orchid.
It Would Compete With the Orchid for Nutrients
Spanish moss is a live plant. That means it still needs water and nutrients to survive.
If you used it as a potting medium, it would not perform its main function – to deliver water to the orchid.
Instead, it would keep compete with the orchid for water and nutrients.
It Harbors Bugs
Spanish moss also harbors a number of pathogens and parasites that could harm your orchids.
In fact, not only that, but these bugs could also irritate you if they get on your skin or get in your house.
Finally, packed too tightly in a basket it acts as a very temping home for cockroaches
I hasten to add that in its natural habitat, ie hanging from trees, Spanish moss won’t be that attractive to bugs and insects.
The problem comes when it falls on the ground, then it becomes a haven for chiggers and spiders.
If you decide to use it then it needs to be thoroughly sterilized before you do so.
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It is Expensive
Obviously, if you collect Spanish moss yourself then it isn’t expensive, but if you are looking to buy it online or in a store it is far more expensive than Sphagnum moss.
Can I Use Spanish Moss Instead of Sphagnum Moss?
I wouldn’t advise it.
Sphagnum moss is generally used with orchids as a potting medium and it performs that role far better than Spanish moss would.
Sphagnum moss absorbs water and nutrients and then releases them slowly.
It also dries out quickly so the roots of your orchid won’t be waterlogged.
The bottom line is Sphagnum moss is cheaper and better for your orchids than Spanish moss.
So the answer to the question, can Spanish Moss be used for orchids? Is very much a yes and no.
It can play a useful role in holding in moisture with bare-rooted orchids and providing shade and protection from direct sunlight.
It also looks good too.
But if you are considering using it as a potting medium, don’t.
It decomposes very quickly and would compete with your orchid for water and nutrients. You are far better off using Sphagnum moss.