Is Spanish Moss Really Spanish?

On my recent visit to the Fountain of Youth, there was some discussion about the Spanish Moss that you see hanging from trees all over the southern United States and specifically here, in beautiful St. Augustine. One of the prettiest streets is Magnolia Avenue leading into the Fountain of Youth. The tree lined street leads to a canopy of branches dripping with Spanish Moss. However, we know that the stuff dripping from the trees isn’t moss and it isn’t Spanish.

If you research it, the true name is usneoides which means “resembling Usnea” and upon further research, Useana is also known as beard lichen. However, the plant isn’t either of those things either – moss or lichen. It is technically a flowering plant (angiosperm) in the family Bromeliaceae (the bromeliads) which grows hanging from tree branches in full sun through partial shade. Read  more: Florida Plant Encyclopedia

So, how did it get its name? Lots of stories are out there. The Native Americans, including our local Timucuan Indians, called it “tree hair,” which, it does resemble hair growing on the trees. The first explorers encountered it as something different and had to come up with a name as well. Since they didn’t tend to like each other, the French called it “Spanish beard” while the Spanish called the plant “French hair.” However, even though our area has dominant Spanish roots, the name that has stuck for the plant is Spanish Moss. The site I found most interesting was 10 Things You Should Know About Spanish Moss.

So, next time someone comments on the Spanish Moss hanging from the tree – -you can mention this little tidbit! And, if you want to find your own home in the St. Augustine area and have your own tree with Spanish Moss, just give me a call!

Magnolia Avenue

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