Friday, March 16, 2012

Grandaddy Graybeard

Seen in the south draped like garland on Southern Live Oak and Bald Cypress trees, Spanish Moss is sometimes called graybeard - grandaddy graybeard. Like the Saguaro cactus of the southwest, it is an icon of the deep south and conjures thoughts of sultry summer days and misty warm mornings.

A northerner, when I first saw Spanish moss I knew I was in the deep south. Where else could I be? The encounter sifted deep into my memories, to memories of pictures and old art that I had seen. Yes, I was finally in the South - finally with the icon.

Spanish moss is not a true moss but an epiphyte, which is a plant that derives its food not from the tree but from the air and rainfall (how lovely is that?) It causes the tree no harm although the growth of the tree may be limited by the amount of sunshine reaching its leaves.

Graybeard has been used for many things including insulation, mulch and packing material. It is also used in arts and crafts and you've most likely encountered it as the grey, soft filling on top of plants from a florist. It was once used to stuff car seats and mattresses. Have you checked your mattress lately?

I'd rather see it on the trees of the deep south where it provides shelter for animals as one part of an intricate web, from tree to graybeard to snakes to bats to memories.

Spanish moss hangin' down
Lofty as the southern love we've found
Spanish moss ~ Gordon Lightfoot

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