Why Spanish Moss is neither from Spain or a Moss

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

What is Spanish Moss?

During a recent trip to St. Simons Island, I was fascinated by the amazing trees on the island.

Many of these trees have Spanish moss hanging from the branches.

For many years I had assumed that the Spanish moss must be a parasitic relationship between the tree and the moss.

Spanish moss

However, after some research, I learned this is not true.

I also learned that Spanish moss is neither from Spain nor is it Moss.

First, Spanish moss is an epiphyte.

Epiphytes are very interesting, these plants receive their nutrition from the moisture and dust in the air or water if they are marine epiphytes.

As a result, you will find many Epiphytes in very humid areas like St. Simons Island.

The term epiphyte comes from the Greek epi- (meaning 'upon') and phyton (meaning 'plant').

The Spanish moss does not get nutrients from the tree it is found on but relies on dust and moisture in the air.

For the most part, the tree is not harmed and the Spanish moss and tree enjoy a commensalism symbiotic relationship.

However, sometimes the Spanish moss covers up so much of the tree that the leaves can not receive sunlight.

Spanish moss is part of the bromeliad family which is the same plant family as pineapples.

pineapple same family as spanish moss

Spanish Moss sprout from a seed.

The seeds inside are similar to dandelion seeds and float through the air until they land on a suitable spot to grow.

Spanish moss is native to Mexico, Central, and South America not Spain.

French explorers called it tree hair and thought it reminded them of the long beards of the Spaniards so they called it “ Spanish beard” and it stuck.

beard looks like spanish moss

It does look a little like the trees are growing a beard.

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