Traveling Through Spanish Moss in Florida
Spanish moss is a native, perennial epiphytic herb. It is not Spanish, nor a moss, but a flowering plant. The slender, wiry, long, branching stems (reaching 8m or more) grow as suspended, bluish-gray streamers and garlands draping among tree branches and sometimes telephone lines and fences. The plant and is not parasitic, as is often thought, but attaches itself to trees for support. – USDA Plant Guide
Several years ago, while visiting my wife’s central Florida relatives, they took us on a driving tour of local points of interest including undisturbed hardwood forests heavy with trees carrying Spanish moss. I realized as I saw those live oaks, how much I miss Spanish moss. While it prefers hardwoods, the huge short needle pine behind the house in Tallahassee where I grew up was adorned with Spanish moss that provided shade in the daytime and a ghostly atmosphere in the moonlight.
Frankly, trees without Spanish moss just don’t look right, not to those of us who knew people who wove it, used it to stuff homemade pillows, or played in it (as we did) and got covered with chiggers (as we did).
Even though the USDA map shows Spanish moss as native throughout Georgia, I don’t see it here in the northwest. You can find it in Savannah and on Jekyll Island, but the climate’s wrong for it here.
If you grew up in Florida, you probably know that the true origin of Spanish moss is the Mist Faerie folk. When the mean old North Wind visited the state in the old days, South Wind and her Little Winds needed a place to hide. The Mist Faeries brought sea clouds into the forests, making a good hiding place for the southern winds. When the clouds were called home to Mother Ocean, the Spanish moss remained just in case it was needed during a future cold spell and another visit from North Wind.
As I can attest, the voice of the wind in Florida is sweet when it sings on its journeys through southern hardwood forests. It’s part of the charm of the state and it always makes a fine lullaby.
Malcolm R. Campbell’s Florida stories include “Moonlight and Ghosts,” “Emily’s Stories,” “The Land Between the Rivers,” “Visiting Aunt Ruby,” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat.” Learn more on his website.
If you head over to his publisher’s website and subscribe to the new Thomas-Jacob newsletter, you’ll be entered in a random drawing for a Kindle Fire Tablet. The drawing is in August.