Back to Nature (Published on TBNWeekly.com - Oct. 13, 2004)
There is something mystical in Spanish moss
Spanish moss a-hanging down
Lofty as the sycamore you’ve found
Spanish moss, keeps on following my thoughts around
Georgia pine and ripple wine …

– Gordon Lightfoot

Maybe it’s in the sunset with mauves and pinks backlighting the Spanish moss like lace on rose crinolines? Maybe it’s the mystique of history remembered, of soldiers coming home, columned mansions, ballroom dances upon courtyards lined with oaks draped with Spanish moss gently blowing in a summer breeze?

Or maybe it’s dirty jazz bellowing in the swamps under ancient cypress trees? Maybe it’s southern walks hand in hand upon tree-lined streets, shops and café’s? Maybe it’s Tara, Tennessee Williams, mockingbird songs, lazy river canoes, crystal springs and hot summer days, tire swings, picnic lunches and red checked table cloths? Maybe it’s being warmly held in southern arms? Maybe it’s simply mystique?

But there is something there in those Spanish moss winds. There is something that makes you draw an extra breath when you see the evening sunset. What is it that makes your eyes close and nearly swoon at the sounds of brass horns carried across the black swamp under a harvest moon? The memories are stored in the Spanish moss. I’m certain of it. It’s there for the touching. It’s there for poems to be written and songs to be sung. It’s a deep, low, gentle sound like that of old fires, gun smoke and rocked babies. The south would not be the south without Spanish moss.

Spanish moss also called graybeard, long moss and Florida moss is native to subtropical and tropical climates from Savannah to Texas, Florida to Argentina. Tillandsia usneoides is not a true moss. Spanish moss is an epiphyte, akin to pineapples (Ananas comosus) both belonging to the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Bromeliales, and to the plant family Bromeliacae.

Epiphytes grow upon the branches for support only. They do not take nourishment from the tree. “Epiphytes grow on the surface of trees and other plants only for mechanical support. Unlike parasites, epiphytes do not draw nutrients from the host plant, but absorb water and food from the air directly though their stems and leaves. Through the process of photosynthesis, the chlorophyll in the epiphyte converts water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates. Other examples of epiphytes are certain tropical orchids and the resurrection fern.”

(Beaufort County Public Library: http://www.co.beaufort.sc.us/bftlib/spanish.htm)

Spanish moss does not have roots. Some people mistakenly think that Spanish moss kills trees. This misconception is often derived from observing a dead tree festooned with live Spanish moss so an assumption is made that the Spanish moss killed the tree. It is actually proof that the Spanish moss does not derive nutrients from the tree. It continues to live long after the tree has died. Only if a tree becomes so heavily infested with Spanish moss that it blocks out light to the leaves of the tree that the tree may suffer indirectly.

Spanish moss had many uses in times gone by and still some today. Naturally birds use this material for building nests and animals use it for bedding. Around the 1930s Spanish moss was harvested for use as a stuffing material in automobile seats, furniture, and mattresses. Earlier on settlers used Spanish moss for kindling, caulking (mixed with mud) and mulch.

Spanish moss continues to be used commercially today by the arts and crafts trade and the floral industry.

Over their heads the towering and tenebrous boughs of the cypress
Met in a dusky arch, and trailing mosses in mid-air
Waved like banners that hang on the walls of ancient cathedrals.

– “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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