Holly Jolly ChristMoss!

plantation lovely                 owl
by chelsea schuyler

Ah, Spanish moss.  No southern swamp, plantation, or wise old tootsie pop authority would be the same without it.  But DID YOU KNOW that Spanish moss is neither Spanish, nor a moss, and is actually more closely related to the pineapple, which is neither a pine nor an apple!  Discuss.  I’ll start.

Nonparasitic, though it can grow 20 ft long and weigh down branches and block their sunlight.  So parannoying at worst
Nonparasitic, though it can grow 20 ft long, weighing down branches and blocking sunlight. So maybe parannoying.

These gorgeous, satisfyingly spongy plants are actually an epiphytic (epi-FIT-ic) bromeliad (bro-ME-lee-ad).  Epiphytic meaning a plant that depends upon another for its (itty bitty) living space, but sucks all its nutrients from the air and rain, not harming the host plant.

for shameless reference only, not accurate
for shameless Disney reference only, not accurate

That’s good cuz it would kinda ruin the charm if Spanish moss was sucking the life out of the beautiful Oaks they hung from.  Bromeliad is the family name, a category mostly consisting of epiphytic plants in the subtropical/tropical Americas, but also includes some terrestrial freaks like the pineapple.  Really I just included it cuz it’s really fun to say.  Bro-me-li-ad.

named stuff
named stuff

Even the Latin name for Spanish moss, Tillandsia usneoides, means “looks like lichen.” This was the somewhat stingy economy of imagination given to us straight from the very father of taxonomy Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).  Which I totally forgive, because how many plants can one really be asked to name before going cross-eyed and dizzy and naming everything Plantis plant.

The common name comes from the French.  Originally the Native Americans called it “tree hair,” which the French renamed “Spanish Beard” to make fun of their rivals.  The Spanish retaliated with “French Hair” but I guess it just didn’t stick as well. And because Subtropical Epiphyte just doesn’t roll off the tongue.

Big Mango asks you be open minded
Big Mango asks that we all be open minded
Big Pineapple in Australia
“Big Pineapple” in Australia
"Big Pineapple" in South Africa
“Big Pineapple” in South Africa

While on the subject, the common name of ‘pineapple’ comes from the fruit’s uncanny pinecone likeness. Can’t speak for apple though.  It should really be like Pine-orange or Pine-lemon, I mean if we’re going for likeness.

Bromeliad…

Rat snake. Who knew round pupils would be even more freaky?

Spanish Moss keeps some interesting bedfellows, including rat snakes (the ones with the creepy round pupils, somehow making it infinitely more freaky looking), three species of bats (eaten by the snakes evidently mistaking them for flying rats), and of course chiggers and spiders and mini things. Oddly, one species of jumping spider is found only on Spanish Moss.  How specialized is that?  Man, I wanna “only” be found on something that cool.  …Magic carpets?

the rare Chelseaus schuyleridae can only be found on the West Morrocan magic carpet...
the rare Chelseaus schuyleridae can only be found on the West Moroccan magic carpet…

If you strip the thin outer layer off a strand of Spanish Moss, you’ll find a black filament at its core.  Someone in the early 1900s did just this and thought what you are all no doubt thinking, “Car Seats!”

Before synthetic replacements made things more boring, Spanish moss was a bustling business, sold as upholstery stuffing for car cushions and mattresses.  Even some of the Model T’s had it.

Yeah, I'd sleep on that.
(June 1937 issue of Popular Science) Yeah, I’d sleep on that.
speaking of hair...really?
the real hair in question here is undoubtedly his

The notMoss filaments have natural insulating properties that keep stuff warm in winter and cool in summer.  Remember that this was before air conditioning so the smallest difference was a coveted commodity.

So now your instincts are confirmed on the cool status of Spanish moss.  And when you wake up to your stockings stuffed full of it you’ll take joy in knowing that instead of blah candy or trinkets, your stocking is full of chigger-infested, bat inhabited, quality insulation.

Happy holidays everyone!

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3 comments

  1. Chelseaus schuyleridae is one of my favorite mini things that thrives in (not)Spanish (not)Moss. But beware, the Chelseaus can be devistating to native edible berry populations, if gone unchecked.

    Like

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