At the start of 2018, the Southeast coastal area experienced a rare snowfall, turning our landscape into a peculiar panorama where snowflakes in the Spanish moss looked like thick icicles dripping from from the branches of our great oaks. This photo is my first contribution for Becca’s Sunday Trees challenge.
Fortunately for the tropical Spanish moss, our snow event was short lived. After six days all traces of ice and snow melted away and we enjoyed the balmy 55º typical of our January highs.
Neither lichen nor moss, Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is one of the signature plants of the Antebellum South, (although it may be found from Virginia to Argentina). It’s an epiphyte, meaning that it uses trees for support. It absorbs nutrients and water through its leaves from the air and rainfall. You see it most often along the coastal areas, because it needs high humidity and mild winter temperatures to survive.
Mysterious and ubiquitous, the plant is a favorite of storytellers throughout the area. Among the legends is this poem (author unknown):
There an old, old legend, that’s whispered by Southern folks,
About the lacy Spanish moss that garlands the great oaks.
A lovely princess and her love, upon her wedding day,
Were struck down by a savage foe amidst a bitter fray.
United in death they were buried, so the legends go,
‘Neath an oak’s strong friendly arms, protected from their foe.
There, as was the custom, they cut the bride’s long hair with love,
And hung its shining blackness on the spreading oak above.
Untouched, undisturbed it hung there, for all the world to see,
And with the years the locks turned gray and spread from tree to tree.