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Spanish Moss On Live Oaks
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© Christine Till
One of Florida's most spectacular plants is Spanish moss, an epiphyte that hangs from live oaks and other trees in silver grey curtains. Native Americans called Spanish moss 'tree hair' and early colonists fed it to their cattle and mixed it with mud to caulk the gaps in their cabins. Florida moss, long moss and greybeard are all common names for Spanish moss. It was recently introduced to Hawaii, where it is known as 'Pele's Hair.' Tillandsia usneiodes is its scientific name. Tillandsia is not a moss of any kind; it is in the bromeliad family. Yes, it is related to the pineapple!
A Word of Caution: Before you gather wild long moss, keep in mind chiggers are another creature that loves Spanish moss. Chiggers are the larval form of a mite, closely related to ticks. (According to some sources, they are only in moss on the ground.)
Early use of Spanish moss in mattresses is the origin of the saying 'Sleep tight and don't let the bed bugs bite!' Those 'bed bugs' were chiggers.
You can't see them, but if you have them, you will get red blotches and itch unmercifully. And no, the old myth of putting nail polish on chiggers to kill them, will not work.
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were good friends. They shared many hours and stories together in Ft. Myers where both had winter homes. Today, when you tour the Edison estate you likely will hear the story of how Ford stuffed the seats of his first Model T with Spanish moss. The docents then jokingly add, "The Spanish moss prompted the first automotive recall when chiggers started crawling out and biting drivers on the butts."
May 21st, 2013
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