Graceful old oak trees, dripping with strange green plants bring about mind Spanish moss growing on Southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). In case your oak is located on the other side of the nation, though, it is probably a Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) that grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10. That stringy stuff hanging on it might be mistletoe, a lichen or perhaps part of the tree.
Under the Live Oak Tree
Often towering over 50 feet with a spread almost as large, based on the variety, oaks are a number of the world’s largest trees. Evergreen live oaks thrive in coastal locations. The coast live oak and interior live oak (Quercus wiislizenii), that grows in USDA zones 6 through 10, have shiny, spiky leaves. The Southern live oak, native to coastal regions of the southeast from USDA zones 8 through 11, plays host to many epiphytic plants, including the iconic Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), but both of the tree and its fellow traveler Behavior demand high humidity and dampness, which will be missing west of the Mississippi. Spanish moss grows in the same zones — USDA zones 8 through 11 — as its host oak tree.
Live Oak Catkins
Live oaks blossom in spring, creating long catkins that curtain gracefully from the ends of their branches. If your tree is shedding stringy stuff in spring, then it might be engaging in its yearly flowering where the long male catkins let loose pounds of yellow mud and then fall from the tree as fresh leaves push out them. Other oaks create catkins, but live oaks generate impressive batches of their hanging blooms.
Underneath the Mistletoe
One variety of mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum), a parasitic plant, which possibly grows on all oaks in USDA zones 6b through 11. The plants root from the tree bark in the upper parts of the tree. Strands of the shrubby plant arch up to two feet from branches. The female plants produce seeds from the plant’s signature white berries that birds find delicious. The birds spread seeds to lower branches and also to higher branches of neighboring trees. In case your oak tree hosts mistletoe, its oval leaves become visible as the tree sheds old leaves in spring. In deciduous oaks, the plants become evident as the trees shed their leaves in late autumn.
Lichens aren’t parasitic, but epiphytic — and they’re not officially plants. They live from sunlight along with the moisture from the air. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) resembles Spanish moss in its stringy growth pattern and has been mistaken for its eastern lichen for ages. Lace lichen hangs in long “beards” and tends to grow on trees near rivers. Other lichens also hang from oaks, but lace lichen is striking — and ordinary enough to be assassinated as the state lichen from the California Lichen Society. If the stringy stuff in your oak hangs like good beards, turns gray in the winter or dry season and also breaks off in lacy clumps, it is probably a stringy, or “fruticose” lichen.