Spanish moss is typically associated with relaxation as it brings to mind summer days admiring the moss hanging beautifully from trees. While most people admire this variety of moss and think it is prettier than other types of moss, it is unlikely that they know very much about it and do not understand what makes it so special. Here is what you need to know about Spanish moss.
Its Name is Deceptive
Despite its name, it is neither a moss or from Spain. Therefore, its name is rather misleading. It is actually from the taxonomic family called bromeliad, which is the same plant group as many houseplants and pineapples. It is native to the Caribbean, South America, Mexico, and Central America. It also grows naturally in some areas of the United States, such as Virginia and Texas. This moss prefers to grow in moister areas and thrives on trees in tropical swamplands. The name actually came from the French who were told by the Native Americans that it was called ‘Itla-Okla, which translates as ‘tree hair. The French renamed it ‘Barbe Espagnol’, meaning Spanish beard’, as this is what the resembled to them. The Spanish then tried to rename the moss the French beard after them but the Spanish name won out and the moss became known as Spanish moss.
It Does Not Feed on Trees
Although this moss grows on trees, it is not a parasite. This is because it does not put down roots on the tree or take its nutrients. Spanish moss gets all its nutrients from the air, water, sunlight, fog, and airborne debris and dust.
It Retains Nutrients
Bizarrely, this moss has the capacity to preserve its nutrients for when it needs them. Its surface is coated with gray scales that retain the water until the moss is ready to absorb it. The moss’ ability to do this is what keeps it alive during dry periods. Following the rain, Spanish moss often appears greener as it has absorbed more water. When the moss has absorbed all the water it has retained, it starts to turn gray.
The Seeds Are Similar to Dandelions
The shape of the moss’ seeds helps it to find a good home. The edges of the seeds are feathery and similar to the seeds of a dandelion. As they are this shape, they can float around in the air until they arrive at a good tree to make their new home.
It Has a Variety of Uses
There is hardly any nutritional value in Spanish moss, so it is not great for feeding to livestock. However, it has been used in a variety of other ways. It was once used to create dresses by the Native American women. It has also been used to hang over fences for privacy or as the rood on an arbor. The downside to this is that the moss needs replacing when it dies as it can only live on trees. A similar use was combining the moss with mud to build houses and this was something that was done by the American colonists. A further use is in mattresses and it has also been used as fire tinder.
Wildlife Also Make Good Use of Spanish Moss
It is not just humans that use Spanish moss in a variety of ways as it is also utilized by the wildlife. Spiders and frogs live in it while birds use it to build their nests. Snakes use the moss as a hiding place and boll weevils are attracted to the moss while it is a deterrent for moths. When the moss touches the ground, it is often invaded by chiggers.
There is Folklore About Spanish Moss
Spanish moss has become part of many folklore tales and one of the best-known of these is the tale of Gorez Goz, who was a bearded brute. For a bar of soap and a yard of braid, Gorez Goz purchased a stunning Indian maiden. The girl was so fearful of the Spaniard that she fled, and he chased after the girl. During the chase, Gorez Goz clambered to the top of a tree. In an attempt to escape, the girl dove into the waters below. Although Gorez Goz tried to follow and capture her, he got his beard tangles in the tree. According to the tale, throughout the Lowcountry, it is still possible to see his gray beard in the trees. This is the gray color of the Spanish moss during the dry periods when it is running low on its water reservations.