SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – It’s almost impossible to think of the bayou state without having at least one vision of Spanish moss hanging from the outstretched, arthritic limbs of an aged live oak or cypress tree. But have you ever stopped to wonder how Spanish Moss got that name?
Spanish moss is not Spanish, but it was almost French—and these are just a few of the secrets the moss, that’s not even really a moss, has been hiding in the swamps of Louisiana.
Louisiana folklore insists French explorers saw a long, spindly plant hanging from trees and thought it looked like the beards and wigs of their enemies, the Spanish explorers. So to use a crime reporting term, they allegedly named the long, spindly plant after the Spanish explorers’ long, spindly wigs and beards.
The Spanish explorers, in return, started referring to the plant as French beards.
Back and forth the insults were hurled until at last the name Spanish Moss won out. It was a war of words, per se, and one that may or may not have been humorous.
Perhaps the victory had to do with the French becoming the last owners of the Louisiana territories before selling the immense property to the United States, or maybe the words “Spanish Moss” just had more of a ring to them than “French Moss.” Nobody really knows for sure.
But we do know a few things about Spanish moss with great certainty. For one, it’s a distant relative of the pineapple.
Spanish Moss is just as happy in the Carolinas as in Columbia, as native in Argentina as in Atlanta. Yes, that’s right. The bromeliad is an air plant, not a moss, that takes moisture and nutrients from the air as it clings to tree limbs and is native to the southern United States, Central America, and South America.
Spanish Moss makes a great houseplant, too. Just be very careful when gathering Spanish Moss from outdoors because it is known to attract chiggers. And on a scale of one to ten, chiggers are an 11 on the annoyance scale.
And in case you were wondering, the answer is no. Spanish Moss does not kill trees.