If you live in a humid area with lots of trees, chances are you've seen Spanish moss before. It drapes over large trees like tinsel when decorating for the holidays. Not many people know a lot about this particular "moss," but its history is quite rich! Here you will finally find the answers to what exactly is Spanish moss and what its purpose is.
To start, Spanish moss is neither from Spain, nor is it a moss! This plant is known as a bromeliad, which is the same classification as a pineapple. Yep, these two things look nothing alike, but they're from the same family! The origin of the Spanish moss isn't Spain like stated before; instead, it's native to Mexico, Central America, South America, the U.S., and the Caribbean. Here in the U.S., Spanish moss finds itself in the more humid southern states. It got the name “Spanish moss” from French explorers who described it as “looking like a Spaniard’s beard."
Spanish moss lives and grows on trees but doesn't take away any nutrients from the trees since it relies on rain, fog, sunlight, and dust to survive. The only time this moss poses a threat to the trees is excessive amounts blocking sunlight from getting to the tree leaves and halting photosynthesis. The moss has no roots, so it can't grow from the ground up. Even though Spanish moss has seeds, those seeds are moved through the air to other trees where more moss can grow.
The purpose of Spanish moss varies from building to clothing material. Animals like birds, spiders, and frogs make use of the moss by building homes out of it. Native American women would use the moss to create dresses while American colonists used it to build a shelter when mixed with mud. The bed has been stuffed with the moss to provide a cool, water-wicking type mattress, and the moss can be fashioned into blankets to provide warmth. Dry Spanish moss is perfect for keeping fire lit and also comes in handy as a garden mulch.
Though the Spanish moss may have a contradicting name and looks to be more of a pest than a blessing, this creeping plantlife is anything but a pest. It provides many uses for humans and various animal species and can be found merely through the trees.