These unusual characters are some of the many lichens in the park. Not true plants, lichens are a symbiotic combination of a fungus and an alga. The fungus gathers nutrients; the alga produces food via photosynthesis. Many lichens have brightly colored or oddly shaped reproductive structures.
Here is another sort, one that looks something like antlers.
Old Man's Beard, Usnea sp., is a common lichen in the park. Some trees are so densely festooned that it is difficult to tell what kind they are.
Old Man's Beard is frequently mistaken for Spanish Moss, but a close look reveals that the color and shape are somewhat different.
This is the real Spanish Moss, a flowering plant. It is a little grayer and denser than the lichen. The similarity between the two has long been noted--the great botanist Carl Linnaeus named the Spanish Moss Tillandsia usneoides, which means literally, "Tillandsia that looks like Usnea."
It's hard to believe that Spanish Moss is in the same family as the pineapple, but it is. Both are members of the Bromeliaceae.
There are plenty of vines in the canopy. The best time to see them is in the spring before they are hidden by leaves.
Perhaps the most common woody vines are the grapes. They can live to be very old and develop very thick stems.
In some places, the tangled vines can make progress difficult. The vine across the top is a grape while the other smooth vines are rattan-vine (Berchemia scandens).
Grapes don't often put out aerial roots, but when they do, they don't fool around.
Note the shreddy bark. It's characteristic of most grapes.
Muscadine Grape, Vitis rotundifolia, has rather round leaves that are smooth underneath.
Mustang Grape, Vitis mustangensis, has more lobed leaves that are densely white-pubescent below.
Grape flowers aren't very showy. The fruits are fairly large and dark blue-black, but hard to find because they are an important food source for animals. The skins of both Muscadine and Mustang Grapes are tart and will "put a fuzz" on your teeth, but the pulp is sweet and juicy. They make good wine, jelly, syrup, and fruit sauces.
Chapter 8 - Utility Right-of-Way
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