Spanish Moss. You can’t travel through the coastal Carolinas without being captivated by it.
In the winter and spring its wispy presence is even more noticeable before the leaves have appeared on trees such as crepe myrtles.
Live oaks are the best known hosts of Spanish Moss and since they stay green all year long (thus the name “live”) even a winter tourist can get a great photo of this quintessential Southern plant.
A lover of humidity, this plant grows well close to our creeks, marshes and to some degree inland as well.
Spanish Moss is really not a moss at all. It is an “angiosperm” – a plant that produces asexually and propagates when its seeds are spread by blowing wind or nesting birds. It has no roots and its flowers are too small to see. It absorbs needed nutrients and water from the air.
Spanish Moss is one of my favorite subjects to photograph and I would say that is the only use that I have for it. I’m sure it serves some purpose in the natural order of the world and commercially in the past it was harvested and used as insulation, mulch, mattress stuffing and packing materials. In the early 1900s it was even used as car seat padding and processing factories are known to have existed as late as 1958.
Doesn’t the moss give an even more haunting appearance to the remains of this Chapel of Ease on South Carolina’s St. Helena Island? No wonder many of the legends regarding the origin of the name Spanish Moss has tragic or spooky elements.
There is a story of the Spanish lover of an Indian girl being hung in a tree by her father. And there is a story of a woman’s braids being cut off by her lover and hung in a tree. The most tragic tale I could tell first hand is of a local child that decided to wear some as a wig and got bitten by chiggers (the almost invisible red mites that live in this plant).
(Dinner bell in ancient live oak at Hampton Plantation, McClellanville , South Carolina)
Personally, with or without the folklore, I find Spanish Moss so compelling. It is such a fascinating natural element of this beautiful area. I think if I were to ever leave the Lowcountry, Spanish Moss would be the scenic treasure that I would miss the most.