The Legend of Spanish Moss
A villain there was named Gorez Goz
Who journeyed here from Spain.
The natives feared him much because
His heart was set on a gain.
Gorez espied an Indian maid
Who filled his fondest hope.
He bought her for a yard of braid
And a little bar of soap.
The Indian maid was sore afraid
And fled this bearded brute.
She sped o'er hill and field and glade
With Gorez in pursuit.
At last the maiden climbed a tree;
The Spaniard did the same.
The lass was bent on being free;
Gorez desired his claim!
She balanced on a slender limb
Then dove into the brook.
She much preferred a morning swim
To this bearded Spanish crook.
The troubles of Gorez begin,
His naughty plans are queered.
He snags the whiskers of his chin
The branches hold his beard.
The Indian maiden thus is free,
Gorez's life is a loss,
But his beard lives on for you to see
As dangling Spanish Moss!
Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is an air-feeding plant or epiphyte found mainly upon cypress, gum trees, oaks, elms, and pecan trees in South Louisiana and Florida. It is not a parasite and does not live off the trees upon which it grows, nor is it harmful to the trees. It has been noticed, however, that its presence on pecan trees tends to reduce the yield, owing, no doubt, to the fact that to some extent it shadows the buds of the fruit.
When the French first came to Louisiana they asked the Indians what this hair-like plant was and were told that it was "tree hair," or 'Itla-okla," as they called it. The French thought it reminded them of the long black beards of the Spanish explorers who had come before them, and advised the Indians that a better name was "Spanish Beard, " or "Barbe Espagnol. " The Spaniards, consider- ing this a term of ridicule, asserted that a more appropriate name was "Cabello Francés," or "French Hair." The Indians thought "Barbe Espagnol" sounded better and for many years Louisiana moss was referred to only as "Spanish Beard." But this name did not last; it seemed too ridiculous. The accepted name became Spanish moss.
The Area in Which Moss Grows
This moss grows in the area comprising the extreme southern portion of Virginia and the Gulf Coast country from Florida to Texas in varying quantities. But its yield in commercial quantities is in the lower Mississippi Valley, and especially in the swamp lands of Louisiana and Florida or where the rainfall is heavy. Louisiana has an annual average precipitation of about 56 inches, and Florida has nearly as much. While high temperatures and high rela- tive humidity are favorable to the growth of moss, it can stand extremes of cold and drought for long periods.
Spanish moss is not propagated by seeds but by fragments or festoons. These fragments are carried from tree to tree by birds and the winds. Birds frequently use strands of moss in building their nests, and in this way distribute the festoons. Evergreen trees seldom have moss on them, for the green leaves tend to ward off the festoons carried by the winds or dropped by birds. In the fall and winter when the trees lose their leaves, fragments of moss attach themselves to the bark. A moss which springs from a festoon or fragment grows to a great length, often reaching 10 to 20 feet. In the early summer this plant produces a very small yellow flower, hardly visible to the naked eye. Moisture and dust from the air produce all the nourishment necessary to keep the plant alive and growing. The plant absorbs water readily; it is, in fact, about twenty-five percent water.
Uses of Moss
The fibre of SPANISH MOSS was originally used in Louisiana for mattresses, and in upholstering, and as a hinder in the construction of mud and clay chimneys. It was also used extensively for binding mud or clay in plastering houses. In more recent years it is used almost exclusively as a filler in overstuffed furniture and upholstery. Probably less than one per cent of the total commercial moss is now used in the manufacture of mattresses. Its use in mattresses is confined to the southern part of Louisiana, usually in the suburban and rural sections.
SPANISH MOSS (before and after curing) consists of an outer bark of a greyish color which protects the fibre within. This bark is mostly sap and vegetable matter and decomposes very rapidly when moistened sufficiently and placed into piles. Within this bark is a very resilient, wiry fibre which is the commercial moss used in overstuffed furniture, upholstery, mattresses, automobile seats, and cushions of various kinds.
Demand for Spanish Moss in Recent Years
In 1927 about 1200 carloads of Spanish moss were shipped out of Louisiana, valued at about $2,500,000. In 1940 about 500 carloads were shipped out of Louisiana, valued at about $750,000. This steady shrinkage in demand is owing primarily to increased use of cheaper imported fibres, such as sisal from Mexico, and the increased use of resilient rubber pads made in America. The State of Florida, where moss is also produced, has captured some of Louisiana's moss trade but not much. It is estimated that at the present rate of decline the moss industry of Louisiana will be negligible by 1961, unless there is a promotional campaign of some kind organised to increase the demand.
Beginning of Commercial Use
From the best information available, shipments of moss on a commercial scale began shortly after the War Between the States, when the upholsterers in the furniture trade began to use it in considerable quantities. This trade continued, and has been greatly increased since the value of moss became better known.
Difference in Strength of Fibre
In the lower sections of Louisiana green moss has a light coat of bark and a heavy and longer fibre. In the upper sections (over 100 miles from the Gulf) the bark is heavier, probably as a protection against colder weather, and the fibre is much lighter, shorter, weaker, and not as strong as the fibre from moss of the lower and more swampy section.
Why Moss is Desirable for Stuffing
No known insect will attack moss fibre, eat, destroy or live within it. Moss ranks next to curled hair in resiliency. That is why it is desirable for use in upholstery. Owing to the large amount of waste matter and the resultant loss of weight with each handling, moss is, contrary to current opinion, not a cheap filler for furniture. It is used only in the finest and most expensive furniture or cushions.