10 Photos that Show Beaufort is a Spanish Moss Lover's Paradise

There is nothing like strolling around Beaufort on a sunny day and being surrounded by live oak trees draped in Spanish moss.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Baker

With each step, you can feel as though you’re stepping into a magical world of mystery and beauty. Spanish Moss, while beautiful, is most often completely misunderstood.

Southern live oak trees and the Spanish moss which adorns them are two of the many things which help give Beaufort the southern charm and natural beauty we enjoy each and every day. It’s a symbol of nature at its most relaxed..and that’s Beaufort.

Check out a series of photographs and facts about one of the Lowcountry’s most unique and beautiful features.

1. Although Spanish moss grows on trees, it is not a parasite. It doesn’t put down roots in the tree it grows on, nor does it take nutrients from it. The plant thrives on rain and fog, sunlight, and airborne or waterborne dust and debris.

Photo Courtesy of Sydney Baker

2. Spanish moss isn’t from Spain. It’s native to Mexico, Central and South America, the U.S., and the Caribbean. In the U.S., it grows from Texas to Virginia, staying in the moister areas of the South. Its preferred habitat is a healthy tree in tropical or subtropical environment.

Photo Courtesy of Sydney Baker

3. Spanish moss was given its name by French explorers. Native Americans told them the plant was called Itla-okla, which meant “tree hair.” The French were reminded of the Spanish conquistadors’ long beards, so they called it Barbe Espagnol, or “Spanish Beard.” The Spaniards got back at them by calling the plant Cabello Francés, or “French Hair.” The French name won out, and as time went by Spanish Beard changed to Spanish moss.

Photo Courtesy of Sydney Baker

4. To sustain the plant, there must be a relative humidity of 63 percent or more and enough rainfall. This is why Beaufort is the perfect home for it. The plant’s tissues can hold more water than the plant needs, to keep it going through dry periods. When the tissues plump up after a rain, Spanish moss appears more green. As the water is used, it returns to a gray hue.

Photo Courtesy of Sydney Baker

5. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is not moss at all. Its Latin name is Tillandsia usneoides and it actually belongs to the pineapple family.

Photo Courtesy of Felix Clayton

6. It has a great number of uses. Native American women used it for dresses in the past. It can be used as an arbor roof or to hang over a chain-link fence for privacy, but since it will only live in trees, you have to replenish the supply as the moss dies. American colonists mixed Spanish moss with mud to make mortar for their houses—some of which are still standing strong. Dried moss makes good tinder for fires, and you can make it into blankets, rope, and mattress filling. Mattresses filled with Spanish moss are noted for staying cool on a warm summer night. Because it soaks up and retains water, it is also used for garden mulch.

Photo Courtesy of Cayla Corum

7.  Spanish moss is found in the Southern United States, Central America, South America and the West Indies.

Photo Courtesy of Allison Moorman

8. In the early 1900s it was used commercially as padding inside car seats. In fact, in 1939 over 10,000 tons of processed Spanish moss was produced. It’s still collected today, in much smaller quantities, for use in arts and crafts or for beddings for flower gardens, and as an ingredient in the traditional wall covering material, bousillage.

Photo Courtesy of Allison Moorman

9. Many kinds of wildlife take advantage of Spanish moss. Birds use it to build nests. Frogs and spiders live in it. Boll weevils are especially drawn to Spanish moss, but moths are not, which is one reason it was preferred over wool in upholstery before synthetic fibers replaced both. Those who gather Spanish moss are warned against chiggers, but experienced collectors say chiggers only invade the moss after it touches the ground. Before tackling a mound of Spanish moss, you will want to be on guard for snakes that may be hiding in it.

Photo Courtesy of Aimee Roosenberg Stuckey

10. The seeds of the moss have feathery appendages like dandelion seeds. This allows them to float through the air until they land on a good spot to grow: another tree. Spanish moss is more likely to propagate by fragmented pieces of plant called festoons. When a festoon is broken off and carried off by wind or birds (using it for nest material), it will begin to grow into a full plant if it lands in an acceptable place.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Baker

Thanks to the photographers for the beautiful photos!