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Florida Guide > Miscellaneous

Spanish Moss

Spanish moss - it’s not Spanish and it’s not moss !!

You will have seen Spanish Moss hanging from the trees and telephone poles in Florida. It hangs in large, beardlike, silvery-gray masses from trees, telephone poles and other plants and bushes. In the southern states of the United States the plant seems to show a distinct preference of growth on southern live oak trees and swamp cypress. It can also colonise other species of trees such as sweetgum, other oaks and even pine trees.

Spanish Moss is a plant in its self and does not live off the tree that it is hanging from. It is not a true moss but a member of the pineapple family, and has inconspicuous flowers. Spanish moss is an epiphyte (an air plant), which absorbs nutrients especially calcium and water from the air and also rainfall through tiny, hairlike scales that cover its threadlike leaves and long, threadlike stems. It absorbs nutrients from dust and solvents in rainwater or from decaying organic matter around its aerial roots. Stalkless yellow flowers appear very rarely. It is not a parasite in the same sense as mistletoe is (it does not burrow into the tree and suck out nutrients to live on). However, it can block sunlight that would other wise fall on the tree's leaves, and it can increase wind resistance which can prove fatal to a tree in during the hurricane season.

Spanish moss is sometimes used as a filler material in packing boxes and as stuffing for furniture and upholstery and is also used around potted plants or floral arrangements. You may find some around the base of the artificial plants which adorne your Florida home or accomodation.

Legend tells us that a Cuban man came with his Spanish fiancée in the 1700s to start a plantation near Charlston, South Carolina. The beautiful bride-to-be had flowing long locks of raven hair. As the couple were walking through the forest to reach the location of their future plantation, they were attacked by members of the Cherokee tribe. The Cherokees were unhappy about these strangers coming to live on their land and so they killed them both. As a stark warning to others to stay away from the Cherokee nation, the tribe cut off the bride-to-be’s long flowing locks of hair and threw it up into an oak tree. During the following days and weeks they noticed that the hair had dried up and turned grey and had also spread all over the tree. Since that terrible day wherever the Cherokee tribes people went, the moss followed them. The moss spread from tree to tree and eventually chased the Cherokee tribe out of their homeland of South Carolina. Even to this very day,legend says that if you stand under an oak tree you can still hear the moaning of the beautiful bride-to-be and will see the moss jump from tree to tree.

It is also be known as ‘Old Man’s Beard’ due to its appearance as a long grey beard.

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Page added on: 29 January 2007
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