Spanish Moss: Neither Spanish nor Moss
I clearly remember the first time we entered Savannah, turning onto 37th Street nearly three months ago. Huge oak trees canopied the street and random rays of sunlight squeezed past the Spanish moss, hanging apathetically off branches like the embodiment of sorrow. We drove slowly, transfixed by the beauty of the scene in front of us. Years from now, when I shut my eyes and think “Savannah”, Spanish moss awash in sunlight will be what I see.
Spanish moss doesn’t come from Spain. It’s indigenous to the Southeastern US, spreading from Florida to Maryland and out to Texas. There are a bunch of stories for why it’s named after the Spanish … here’s a particularly poetic one. But most likely, when the English came to the region with Florida already settled by the Spanish, they named this new kind of plant “Spanish beard”.
Spanish moss isn’t a moss, nor is it a parasite. It’s an airborne plant which takes its nutrients directly from the air. It’s actually a member of the same family as the pineapple, which is so bizarre it must be true. Spanish moss doesn’t harm the trees it rests on, predominately Live Oaks and Bald Cypresses, except by making them more wind-resistant which is dangerous during hurricanes.
One of the first things we were told after moving here is that we shouldn’t touch it, because of little bugs which live on it. Of course, this was shortly after we had fashioned a “hilarious” moss outfit for our dog, and wigs for ourselves. I’ve also read that jumping spiders inhabit the plant. So: hands off.
I’ve wondered how much the Spanish moss influences life in the South, if at all. It fits perfectly here, creating an atmosphere of mystery and eccentricity, and also beauty. I don’t know how many pictures of Spanish moss Juergen’s taken during our time in Savannah, but I would guess around a thousand. That’s not hyperbole, that’s my honest guess. Even a cursory glance through our archives will turn up a ton.
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January 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm