Gracefully draping trees throughout Nature’s Place to Play and much of the southeast U.S.,Spanish moss is not actually moss at all; it’s a bromeliad, a perennial in the pineapple family.
Here are six fun facts about our distinctive outdoor décor.
Without roots and capable of absorbing moisture and nutrients from the air, Spanish moss is non-parasitic; only using its tree hosts for support. Most common on southern live oaks and bald cypress, it can also be seen on other tree types.
Spanish moss isn’t even from Spain. It’s native to Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Native Americans told French explorers the plant was called Itla-okla, which means “tree hair”. The French Explorers in turn named it Barbe Espagnol, or “Spanish Beard.” It is said that early Spaniards pronounced it Cabello Frances or “French Hair” but the name evolved over time to be Spanish moss.
Lacy festoons of Spanish moss can extend up to twenty feet in length.
Its tangled clumps and strands are home to some species of insects, frogs, spiders, bats, snakes and more. A favorite among birds, it’s a popular nesting material.
Spanish moss contains a strong fibrous core that – after curing – has been used for many things including padding for automotive seating in the 1930’s as well as furniture upholstery, mattresses and home insulation. In the Civil War, it was a favored textile woven into blankets and saddle pads by the Confederate cavalry. Native Americans, particularly such indigenous tribes as the Timucuan and Seminole, fashioned it into clothing, furniture, medicine and other items.
These days, besides being a valuable part of the ecosystem, Spanish moss plays a starring role as an ethereal, gothic, silvery and beautiful backdrop, evocative of the American South.