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Family Bromeliaceae
Buhok ni Ester
Tillandsia usneoides Linn.

Scientific names Common names
Dendropogon usneoides (L.) Raf. Air plant (Engl.)
Renealmia usneoides L. Buhok ni Ester (Tag.)
Strepsia usneoides (L.) Nutt. ex Steud. Gray beard (Engl.)
Tillandsia crinita Willd. ex Beer Long moss (Engl.)
Tillandsia filiformis Lodd. ex Schult. & Schult.f. Spanish moss (Engl.)
Tillandsia trichoides Kunth Old man's beard (Engl.)
Tillandsia usneoides Linn.  
Tillandsia usneoides (L.) L. is an accepted name The Plant List

Other vernacular names
FRENCH: Barbe grise, Cheveux d'ang, Cheveux du roi, Fille de l'air

Buhok ni Ester is an epiphytic bromeliad with silvery gray, threadlike and hanging festoons, growing 2 meters or longer, sometimes as longer than 20 meters, hanging on tree limbs, cliffs, and wires. Leaves are scattered, narrow-linear, up to 7 centimeters long. Flowers are small, solitary in the leaf axils.

More botanical info
From: A Study of Tillandsia Usneoides by Frederick H. Billings / Botanical Gazette, Vol. 38, No. 2, Aug., 1904: Tillandsia usneoides is the most widely distributed representative of the tropical and subtropical family Bromeliaceae. If provides a conspicuous and characteristic landscape feature. Its growth on ornamental trees is regarded with concern because of the common impression that it lives parastically. Exam reveals it is in no way connected to the tree but merely wraps its dead, wiry stems around the twigs in order to support itself. . . An indirect cause of the popular belief in its parasitism is its preference for sunny exposures. Many a cultivated tree in perfectly healthy condition possesses too dense foliage to serve as host for Tillandsia, but if the supply of leaves is reduced, the light conditions make the presence of the epiphyte possible, which might suggest to the owner that the moss is cause rather than the result of reduced foliage. . .

- Ornamental cultivation, preferring warm climates with high humidity.

• Studies have yielded cyclopropane-containing triterpenes and a flavone glycoside.
• Phytochemical testing yielded cycloarterenol, 4,5-dihydroxy-3',7-demthoxyflavanone and a mixture of steroids stigmasterol, ß-sitosterol and campesterol.

• Air purifying, analgesic.

Parts used
Roots and stems.

• No reported folkloric medicinal use in the Philippines.
• In south Louisiana, has been reportedly used for the treatment of diabetes mellitus.

• In Bahia, Brazil, decoction of the whole plant, "Sambambaia," is used for sexual weakness.
Bioindicator: Studies have shown it is a particularly reliable indicator of metal pollutants in the air.
Fiber: Yields a tough, elastic fiber from the non-living vascular tissues of the stem.
Gardening: Also used as mulch
, handicraft, and decorative handicraft.

Extracts of Tillandsia usneoides have been found to reduce blood sugars in lab animals, an effect attributed to the compound HMG (3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaric acid). (3) Study yielded four bioactive compounds, including HMG. HMG elicited significant hypoglycemic responses in fasting normal mice. Further evaluation of HMG and other potential HMGCoA lyase, for diabetes treatment is suggested. (3)
Biomonitor / Air Pollution: Neutron activation analysis applied to the determination of elements in the epiphytic bromeliad T. usneoides exposed in different polluted sites showed an accumulation of elements and indicated a promising potential of the species to serve as a biomonitor of air pollution.
Analgesic: Aqueous ethanol extracts of 17 medicinal plants in Brazil were studied for analgesic properties in mice by the writhing and tail flick method. Significant effects were noted in five plants, including Tillandsia usneoides. (2)
Antiedematogenic / Toxicity: Study showed an antiedematogenic effect and potent antioxidant activity.
No toxicity was reported. (5)
Pharmacologic Activities : Old studies have showed a weak antibacterial effect and estrogenic activities.
Air Pollution Biological Monitor: Study results showed T. usneoides incorporates anthropogenic elements reaching max levels after 6 to 10 weeks. Results from biomonitors agree with those from aerosol filters, and suggests T. usneoides can be employed a first approximation for insights on atmospheric pollution levels prior to a detailed study using filters. (9)
Flavonoid / Weak Antibacterial: Study isolated a flavonol type glycoside with weak antibacterial action against Staphylococcus aureus. (12)


Godofredo U. Stuart Jr., M.D.

Last Update December 2015

Photos ©Godofredo Stuart / StuartXchange
OTHER IMAGE SOURCE: / Line drawing / Tillandsia usneoides (L.) / Spanish moss / / USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 456. / USDA

Additional Sources and Suggested Readings
Determination of trace elements in Tillandsia usneoides by neutron activation analysis for environmental biomonitoring / Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry / Volume 249, Number 2 / August, 2001 DOI 10.1023/A:1013274721149
Screening in mice of some medicinal plants used for analgesic purposes in the state of S~ao Paulo / Costa M Di Stasi LC Kirizawa M Mendacolli SL Gomes C Trolin G / J Ethnopharmacol (1989 Nov) 27(1-2):25-33
Identificatiion of 3-Hydroxy-3-methylglutaric acid (HMG) as a hypoglycemic principle of Spanish Moss (T. usenoides) / K.M. Witherup, J.L. McLaughlin / Journal of Natural Products / Vol 58, No 8, pp 1285-1290, Aug 1995.
A Folk Medicine for Diabetes Mellitus / W J Keller et al / Summary Pharmaceutical Biology • 1981, Vol. 19, No. 2-3, Pages 49-51 , DOI 10.3109/13880208109070574
Evaluation of the antioedematogenic, free radical scavenging and antimicrobial activities of aerial parts of Tillandsia streptocarpa Baker – Bromeliaceae / R H Delaporte et al / Journal of Ethnopharmacology
Volume 95, Issues 2-3, December 2004, Pages 229-233 / doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.07.022
The Use of Medicinal Plants in the County of Tanquinho, State of Bahia, North-eastern Brazil / Costa-Neto et al / REVBRAS.PL.MED 2(2): 1-8.2000
A Study of Tillandsia usneoides / Frederick H. Billings / Botanical Gazette, Aug. 1904, Vol. 38, No. 2, pp 99-121 / Chicago Journals / JSTOR
Tillandsia usneoides: An Indicator to Air Pollution / American Museum of Natural History
PIXE analysis of Tillandsia usneoides for air pollution studies at an industrial zone in Central Mexico
/ M.A. Martínez-Carrilloa, C. Solís, E. Andrade, K. Isaac-Olivé, M. Rocha, G. Murillo, Rosa Icela Beltrán-Hernández, C.A. Lucho-Constantino / Microchemical Journal, Volume 96, Issue 2, November 2010, Pages 386–390
Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss) / Kew Botanical Gardens
Tillandsia usneoides (L.) L. / Synonyms / The Plant List
A preliminary phytochemical study of Tillandsia usneoides L. (Spanish moss) / M. G. Webber†, W. M. Lauter and P. A. / ournal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, Volume 41, Issue 5, pages 230–235, May 1952 / DOI: 10.1002/jps.3030410503

It is not uncommon for links on studies/sources to change. Copying and pasting the information on the search window or using the DOI (if available) will often redirect to the new link page.

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