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Countdown to Savannah: Spanish Moss

Written by teaberry

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

Tree Hair

When you visit Savannah, one of the many things that will strike you in this Southern town is the natural beauty of Spanish moss.

Just what is that beautiful lacy stuff hanging down from the trees of Savannah?

Well, native Americans used to call it "tree hair", and for good reason. It has small thread-like leaves that are connected to tiny strands of black, hair-like fibers. When the early French arrived on the scene, they thought it reminded them of the long black beards of their early Spanish counterparts in the New World, and so they called it Spanish beard. (the Spaniards, in turn, called it French hair!) The name eventually was changed to Spanish moss.

Photo of Spanish Moss

Tree Hair - Spanish Beard - French Hair

But is it moss that's hanging down from the tree branches? Not at all. Spanish moss, more formally known as Tillandsia usneoides, is actually an epiphyte - a plant that leans on other plants to grow. It is not a parasite, but rather uses the support and the surface of trees in order to expose its little strands to moisture and air to get its nutrients. It is able to absorb from dew, mist, fog, or rain. It can get so heavy with moisture after a rainstorm that it's been known to break tree branches from its weight. Also known as an air plant, because it doesn't have any roots, Spanish moss will only be found hanging from tree branches; you will never see it growing around mailboxes, vines, trellises, or on the sides of houses.

Spanish moss was utilized by early colonists as a caulk for their homes, by mixing it with mud. Over the years, it's been used as a feed for livestock, stuffing for car cushions and mattresses, packing material, even its extracts have been experimented with for diabetes treatment. Today, it is mainly used in handicrafts and the floral industry.

Spanish moss flowers have a mild collective fragrance, which is most noticeable in the night air of a beautiful Savannah evening, between April and July.

Resources

All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)


Author: teaberry is a nurse anesthetist who enjoys hiking, gardening, family, traveling, reading, playing piano, art, cooking, and anthropology - not necessarily in that order.


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