Spanish Moss: Personal, Historical, and Contemporary Facts and Usage

by | Jun 7, 2022 | CNF, Issue Twenty Seven

1 Spanish moss is not moss. It is a bromeliad; a cousin to pineapple. Though it loves moisture, it grows high up in trees where it is in constant danger of drying out.

2 My ancestors harvested the moss and used it to make blankets, rope, and stuffing for mattresses.

3 Spanish moss is not Spanish. It is native to North and South America. The French called it Barbe Espagnole, Spanish Beard. The Spanish called it Cabello Frances, French Hair. This is not the first nor the last time my ancestors will disagree.

4 In 1755, British soldiers set fire to Acadian homes, barns and chapels. With many others my family were sent to the sea, put on boats, and expelled from Acadie. Historians will call this a migration. Le Grand Dérangement.

5 Dérangement translates in English to a disturbance. Or, an inconvenience.

6 Spanish moss is not a parasite. It is an epiphyte. It has adapted to live without roots.

7 So much of life can be spent searching for a place to thrive.

8 Orphaned in Maryland, my family boarded the Brittania in 1769 for New Orleans. The crew, unfamiliar with Gulf tradewinds and geography, lost their way in fog and missed the mouth of the Mississippi, landing in Matagorda, Mexico. Having only rats and shoe leather to eat, it is said the passengers slaughtered a horse on land and had just enough time to eat it before they were imprisoned by Spanish authorities.

9 Birds, such as yellow-throated warblers and northern parulas, break off pieces of
Spanish moss to use as nesting materials. These broken pieces are called festoons. Festoons can thrive when they land in acceptable places.

10 Matagorda was not an acceptable place.. My family worked as indentured servants on local haciendas before they were released and permitted to walk over three hundred miles to La Louisiane.

11 The seeds of Spanish moss have feathery appendages. They travel through the air until they find a place to grow.

12 In 1769, my fifth great-grandfather was eighteen years old, newly arrived in Opelousas. His descendants will be Acadian, Creole, French, Isleño, African, Malagueño, Choctaw, Spanish, and Opelousa, among others. In 1812, they will become Louisiana.

13 Spanish moss must be cured before it can be used. The most efficient method is to flash cure, meaning, to plunge and scald in boiling water.

14 To cure is to be rid of something detrimental, to prepare, to promote hardening.

15 Today, in a museum gift shop, a doll made of Spanish moss. Mossy head, torso and limbs. A halved oyster shell where a face should be. Hung on the door to warn the evil spirits. To welcome good luck.

Pin It on Pinterest