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Spanish moss Beautiful Southern air plant
Liberty lore
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Spanish Moss—Beautiful Southern Air Plant

Most native Liberty Countians never notice the beautiful, mysterious, even eerie, air plant that grows abundantly on live oaks and other trees here.
I am talking about the Spanish moss, the silvery-gray strands sometimes as long as 20 feet hanging from the trees.
One of the best places to see Spanish moss in the old Midway Cemetery.  Everyone who writes about the cemetery mentions the abundance of moss in the live oaks, seemingly creating shrouds over graves.  
Spanish moss is a beautiful, lacy romantic symbol of the South. It is a tropical epiphytic herb growing on another plant upon which it depends for support, but not for nutrients.  It is not a parasite, like mistletoe, but is an air plant, which has no roots.  It gets its nutrients from the air.  It is a cousin to the pineapple.
Believe it or not, Spanish moss belongs to the group of flowering plants.  Individual stems bear leaves with tiny inconspicuous flowers that are yellowish-brown. From April to July the fragrance of the tiny flowers is most noticeable at night.  The blossoms produce seed pods after fertilization that get blown out and stick to other trees where they’ll start to grow.
A host tree may suffer if a real thick growth of moss blocks out the sunlight, but Spanish moss usually does no harm to a tree.  A Swedish botanist named Carolus Linnaus named the plant around 1730.  Native Americans called the plant “tree hair” and the French explorers called it “Spanish beard” to insult their rivals in the New World.  The Spanish called it “French hair.” Another common name is “graybeard.”
This moss will grow only on trees.  The wind blows seeds onto other surfaces but rarely grow.
There is moss in every tree in our yard in Allenhurst.  It seems to love the dogwood trees best.  A few years ago I was looking at the large live oaks in our front yard in Tattnall County.  There are about 25 across the front.  It struck me that there was no moss in any of the trees.  I asked Gene about it.  He said no moss grows past a certain area in the county.  So, I transplanted some from Allenhurst to the farm.  It would not grow.
The Spanish moss shelters a number of creatures, including chiggers, mites, spiders, rat snakes and three species of bats.  Birds use it to build or conceal their nests.  The parula warbler makes its nest in the clump of moss.  Squirrels, egrets, owls and mocking birds use it for their nest bedding.
In 1670, a man arrived on the Sea Islands and described three women of the Sewee tribe as wearing robes made with new moss. The first Europeans tried to use moss as fodder for the animals but could not make them eat it.  Deer, wild turkeys and horses eat it as bulk food.  Colonists mixed mud and moss to caulk their log cabins. Dried moss made good kindling. Commercial uses have included packing materials, saddle blankets, bridles, braids and even filament to repair fishnets.
Henry Ford stuffed seats in his first Model T with this “tree line upholstery.”  Herbalists used it as a tea to relieve rheumatism, abscesses and birth pains.  Diabetes has been treated with medicines obtained from Spanish moss.  Manufacturers were stuffing mattresses with American Spanish moss in Liverpool, England, in the 1840s.  After 1975 synthetic fibers eliminated the need for natural fibers.  The moss has even been used to fill pot holes and dam up puddles in driveways to private residences.  Often people place moss in the microwave to “cure” it and kill the insects so they can use in flower arrangements or other crafts.
In 1970, the Spanish moss began dying out in the South caused by an incurable mold infestation.  Much of the moss was killed but enough plants resisted the epidemic that a strain immune to the mold soon thrived.
People who come to Liberty County from other parts of the world often ask, “What is that gray stuff hanging on the trees?”
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