Spanish moss: A symbol of Beaufort's natural beauty
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. You admire the great oaks and the mysterious Spanish moss draping them. You relish in the water views, with the Spanish moss in the foreground. Artists paint it into paintings. The moss appears in many a local photograph.
Along Beaufort’s roads, the grey-silver moss hangs nearly everywhere (including telephone poles and fences) and the live oaks meet together to build natural tunnels and shade with the oak’s massive main branches spreading out in every direction. The Spanish moss that hangs from the trees grows from the branches. The moss gives the live oaks a southern, gothic look, and can appear quite creepy at nighttime resembling a sort of weeping garland. However, during the day the sun shines through the moss which creates a mysterious, yet beautiful glow.
If you were asked to draw a picture of a Southern landscape, it often would include a few live oak trees adorned in long garlands of Spanish moss.
Spanish moss is actually a misnomer; it is neither Spanish nor moss. Its Latin name is Tillandsia usneoides. It actually belongs to the pineapple family. It’s a rather fortunate plant with its many uses to both man and animal throughout history. It spreads rather easily, as a long strand can be broken off by the wind and carried to another tree, where it will grow into a new plant. Birds take pieces as nesting material, and any piece dropped on a branch will grow again.
Spanish moss has been used for various purposes over the years including building insulation, packing material, and mattress stuffing. It was boiled to make tea for chills and fever. There is evidence that Spanish moss was used over 3,000 years ago to make fire-tempered pottery. Although the moss burned away during the firing, the distinctive pattern of the fibers is still evident in the clay pottery.
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.
But we know it as the beautiful, sometimes sad adornment of our mighty oaks. Spanish moss is a uniquely attractive part of the Beaufort scene – something to treasure.