Real or Urban Landscape Myth?

Photos and Article by Jim E. Davis

Urban legends in the landscape abound. In extension and plant clinics, we hear them all.

Myth #1: The invasive Formosan termite can eat concrete.

Fact: If that were true, then I think we would be in a state of emergency in all of Florida. The fact is that no termite can eat or digest concrete. Termites only eat cellulose; however, termites can gain entry through the tiniest of cracks in concrete and other materials. The Formosan or “Super Termite” can be a serious threat to homes. They are a major problem in the panhandle and have been identified in Central Florida Counties. Another similar urban legend is that some say homes made up of a concrete foundation are exempt from subterranean termites. Of course, this is another myth. Any small crack found in the slab or foundation can be an entry point for termites. Contact a pest control company if you want to begin termite protection. If you collect insects that you think are termites, bring them to our UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County office for free identification.

Myth #2 – Spanish moss and Ball Moss suck the nutrients out of plants and kill them.

Fact: This is one of the most common urban legends out there. I have heard this growing up in Florida all of my life. Science will tell you that this is not true. Spanish moss or Tillandsia usneoides is a native plant species. This plant has been here long before European contact to the new world. Spanish moss is not a true moss, but actually a bromeliad. An example of another bromeliad is your common, delicious pineapple. Spanish moss belong to a group of plants that are called epiphytes. Epiphytes are air plants. They collect water and nutrients from small permeable scales. They are not parasitic plants at all. Spanish moss is an invaluable native plant. It is home to many insects and other arthropods. Birds, such as the majestic swallow-tailed kite, use it for nesting. Several native species of bats and Florida’s state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing, roost in Spanish moss. So, you can see how this plant has many benefits to wildlife. Spanish moss also played a role in human history. Native Americans used Spanish moss for bedding and to soak up unwanted liquids while cooking. In the early and mid 1900’s, Spanish moss was used in automobile cushions and mattresses. My grandparents collected Spanish moss from trees and brought it to Tampa for processing. Ball moss or Tillandsia recurvata is another epiphyte. If you see a lot of ball moss on a dying tree, then something else is causing its decline.

Ball Moss

Myth #3 – Lovebugs were genetically created by The University of Florida to kill mosquitoes.

Fact: Only if this were true! I think a Florida State Seminole fan thought this up. Just kidding! The fact is that there are actually a native species and invasive species of lovebug. The invasive species arrived in the 1920’s in southern Louisiana and has then spread to other states. There are two outbreaks. The first occurs in April-May while the second occurs in August-September. They can be a nuisance to drivers, congregating near highways and gas stations. The fatty tissue from the lovebugs can ruin a cars finish if not removed within two days. Lovebug larvae break down decomposing vegetation, which provides nutrients to many plants. Adults are short lived, feeding on nectar. Due to the large numbers during outbreaks, using insecticides is impractical.

UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County provides solutions for your life. Extension programs are open to all persons without regard to race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, or national origin.

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