Spanish Moss? It’s Neither Spanish Nor Moss!
If you’ve ever seen photos of a romantic Southern Plantation or visited Southern cities, you’ve surely seen Spanish moss hanging on the trees.
Nothing completes a picture of the American south quite like Spanish moss. It’s those gray hairlike masses that hang from oak trees in every plantation photo you’ve ever seen.
In the featured image for this post, for example, you can see it hanging from the trees in Savannah. In fact, it’s described as a plant that “grows as silvery-green festoons on trees.” A festoon is a chain or garland of flowers, leaves, or ribbons, hung in a curve as a decoration.
When there’s a nice breeze, the tendrils of Spanish Moss sway delicately and look and can be very relaxing.
Spanish moss isn’t Spanish…or moss, for that matter.
Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, didn’t come to us from Spain. It’s native to a wide swath of South, Central and southern North America. In deed, you’ll find it from Texas to Virginia in the U.S. It likes the humid climates, and the southern United States certainly qualifies in that department…especially in the summer months!
As for the “moss” part, I think most of us have, at some point, seen what moss looks like: it’s a plant that usually roots at the bases of trees and looks like a rich green velvet-like carpet. Spanish moss doesn’t look anything like the real moss.
Instead, it is a bromeliad, a perennial herb in — of all things — the pineapple family. Who would have guessed?
The University of Florida explains that bromeliads are epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants but do not rely on them for nutrients. Some people apparently fear it actually damages the oak trees where it’s most often found. But experts say that’s false: Spanish moss takes its nutrients from the air by “catching” them with their permeable scales.
The only thing Spanish moss uses the trees for is a place to hang around.
And in doing so, it helps provide the familiar image so many of us have come to associate with the south.