Wednesday, November 12, 2008

...bearded with moss

Perhaps you recall the lines to Longfellow's Evangeline, this is the forest primeval ... bearded with moss. For some reason quite inexplicable, I needed to escape this evening. And so I returned to the swamplands of Louisiana, where I made a point of photographing the Spanish moss festooning the cypress and other deciduous trees.

I first met Spanish moss as a little girl, when the family moved from Arizona to Florida. Mom and the kids made the trip by train. Once across the Mississippi in New Orleans, we transferred to a different train, which left late in the evening. I awakened in the middle of the night, looked out the Pullman car window and was both astonished at and a little frightened of the draped trees like something from a horror movie. Of course, once we were settled, the moss quickly became one more everyday plant that disappeared by becoming commonplace.

Here's what I found out from the Terrebonne Parish website: 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.

Further: 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 statement above is actually wrong about seeds; a Good Ole Boy down in Georgia has a web site selling Spanish moss to gardeners and craftspeople. Around the entire USA apparently. He notes that if the Spanish moss you're trying to grow up in Minnesota or Maine gets hit by the frost, there will likely be tiny seeds throughout the festoons which will regrow when the sun warms things up again.

At one time, the "moss" industry supplied furniture manufacturers with upholstery stuffing. Not so these days of foam and other man-mades, but it's a beautiful plant to just watch as it swings in the breeze, sometimes quite wildly. And just by the way, although Evangeline was written about Cajun Louisiana, the pines and hemlock bearded with moss were actually back in Canadian Acadia, where the sad tale began. No Spanish moss for Longfellow though I had never realized it!

Good Googling: Have you ever tried The Google's alert service? Very useful, it is. I have asked the oracle to notify me whenever a blog post mentions Prescott. Today, I received this fascinating link to UFOs seen over our hometown. (Between you and me, I didn't find the video very convincing.) Another intriguing use of The Google is to track trends, based on the rise and fall of particular search terms. Turns out that a rise in searches related to flu symptoms actually precedes reports from the government's Center for Disease Control.


meggie said...

That moss has always intrigued me. We dont seem to have it naturally occuring here, but it is now introduced as "Air ferns". It seems to thrive on just that- air!
It has provided very atmospheric scenes in Movies of the South!

Anonymous said...

Mmmm, this post makes me crave a good, hot bowl of file' gumbo!

~Anon in AV.

Granny J said...

meggie -- I would never have guessed that Spanish moss has been exported as an exotic from the USA -- I don't think of us as having anything exotic about ourselves or our surrounds!

anon av -- I'll call one up from the Sson, who's a passing good cook.

Margaret Cloud said...

This is a very informative post and very interesting, the photos are very nice.

sheoflittlebrain said...

Yes, very interesting post, GJ.
I tried the UFO video and agree..not much to see, but it made me rememmber that there were quite a few people who gathered around an author who wrote of and believed in them. Truman bethram..Don't know what happened to him

Granny J said...

cloudy -- I also learned a bit compiling the post -- an interesting side benefit of blogging is that you are forced to visit The Google with your questions.

brain -- way back when, I had heard that there was a major UFO sighting in the Prescott area. Do you recall?

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