Spanish moss is not actually a moss; it’s an herb. Specifically, it is an epiphytic plant, which means it grows its own food rather than relying parasitically on a host. Epiphytes are often referred to as air plants because their roots are aerial, but Spanish moss doesn’t actually have roots. It just coils itself around a host tree and can reach 20 feet in length. Though it prefers wet environments, (like the bayou, which if you’ve ever seen it, is likely where you’ve seen it) its ability to store food and water drawn from the air around it makes it able to withstand long droughts, during which the plant becomes dormant. Spanish moss reproduces by way of small seeds that are carried by the wind and birds and by birds that break off small sections and relocate them. For a long time it was dried and cured to be used as a mattress stuffing, furniture and car seats and as insulation in some styles of Cajun architecture, especially in the pre-airconditioning days, as it is a natural insulator. The plant can be found in Central and South America as well as in the southern United States from Texas to Florida.**
*Copyright on that picture belongs to me. It’s from my road trip to Louisiana and Mississippi (and briefly, Alabama and Florida) in the summer of 2006 to see my mother while she was dispatched to Biloxi post-Katrina.
**More information here.