New Series No. 85
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE Tallahassee, Florida
Nathan Mayo, Commissioner JUNE, 1947
This symposium on Spanish moss is offered to the public in answer to numerous requests for information on the subject.
We wish to tender our thanks to those who have contributed the signed articles which make up the major contents of this bulletin.
May it serve to interest the curious and instruct those who are interested in it as a commercial venture.
NATHAN MAYO, Commissioner of Agriculture.
CPA'NISH MOSS got its name like many other things, inadvertantly. The Spanish were the first to make acquaintance with it. Perhaps they used it to pack things with which they shipped back to Spain. It is a native of America and not of Spain. Irish potatoes were found first in South America. Peanuts are a native of America, though there is a variety known as Spanish. Even America itself was not discovered by Americus Vespucius. Spanish moss is just one of those truants of lexicography which got started wrong and has never corrected its ways, and doubtless never will.
Biologically, it is not a parasite, but feeds from the air. When it is seen on dead trees it was there before the tree died, and though dead itself, it will hang there for years. It is never seen growing on some kinds of green trees. Jt is a perennial of the family Bromcliaceae. It festoons the ~branches~oftrees in tropical and sub-tropical American forests, being conspicuous on liveoak, pine, gum, cypress, and many trees in the forests of the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and along the rivers of the southern part of South Carolina and in South America along the rivers emptying into the Atlantic, as far south as Brazil.
it spreads byjneans of seed and l>y bging blown from tree to tree in fragments* Tiny green flowers appear at tne base of the awl-shaped leaves. They occur in May and June. The formation of seed is slow, and it is not until the following March that they are dispersed. Each seed is covered with delicate barbed hair, which enables it to float quite a distance in the winds and find lodgment in the bark of trees. Nevertheless the usual method ot propagation is by fragments carried by winds and by birds. This accounts for the irregular distribution.
Though some have estimated its annual value into the millions, it might as well be said once and for all that no quick fortunes wait the gatherers of Spanish moss. One ton ot green moss will yield about 700 pounds of dry moss. Some fifteen percent more of the weight is lost in the process ot cleaning it of the fuzzy bark which covers the fiber. This is done by "ginning." Then the ginner who buys the raw moss sells it in. two hundred-pound bales at about 5c a pound. He paid the original gatherers about $30 a ton for the gathering. The moss must be "cured"'
before it is ginned. The curing lasts from four to six months. It is piled down and watered while the non-fiber parts "rot down," leaving a dark hair-like fiber.
The person who makes gathering moss a business has long light poles with sharp hook-shaped blades on the ends with which to cut it loose. Children are often used to climb liveoaks and hook it down. The very tall cypress trees of the swamps cannot be robbed of their grey draperies, as their boughs are out of the reach of man. In a few instances the value of the moss was considered of enough importance to be sold on timber lands just as one might sell a crop of fruit on the trees.
The fibers made from Spanish moss are used for a number of things, including upholstering, the most of it goes into upholstering furniture, padding various articles, taking the place in packing of excelsior, waste cotton, palm fibers, kopak or cocoa fibers, straw, sea grass or tows. Withal. Spanish moss is a real product, answering a real need and promising to furnish a commodity in permanent demand.
Moss-bearing forests in Florida are very spotted and widely scattered- Cypress swamps and riversides are prolific in moss production, but much of it is out of reach on tall trees with no low limbs for climbing. Oak forests, even on highlands, are often heavy moss producers. The scrub cypress timbered sections of the Everglades look "mossy." but it is exceedingly difficult to get any kind of conveyance through the woods to haul it out. Any one interested in locating a plant for handling moss would have to make a survey of the state to find the most promising moss-bearing sections, and with the more favorable surroundings for the bringing of moss to the ginnery and of marketing the product.
HOW SPANISH MOSS IS PREPARED FOR UPHOLSTERING
By JOHN W. RABB
The value and grade ol* Spanish or southern moss as an upholstery material depends largely upon thorough care in selecting the growing moss, upon its proper cure and preparation for the market. While the supply is great, due to the rapidity with which it replenishes itself, the loss in curing and ginning is great and the finished product represents less than 12 per cent of the bulk or weight of the raw material.
The plant known variously as Spanish, or southern or Florida moss, and from its appearance sometimes called "old man's beard," resembles a lichen and hangs in long festoons from the branches of trees. It is not a true moss at all but a fiber plant belonging to the pineapple fjunily ( Bromeliaceae). The botanical name for It is Dendropogon usneoides. For over 150 years it bore the scentific name of Tillandsia usneoides, but modern students hold that it is so distinct from other Tillandsias in technical characters as to belong in a separate genus.
The long strands, attaining a maximum length of three or four yards, consist of a core of black vegetable hail covered by a grey bark. Spanish moss is a flowering plant, the strands growing from the flower or seed. The small flowers are yellowish-green and slightly fragrant at night. The seed are equipped with feathery parachutes which float them through the air and hold them to the bark of trees. Several strands may grow simultaneously from one seed or parent sprout. Small, thread-like leaves from one to three inches long grow along these strands.
Detached from the parent seed, the strands continue to grow and blossom and a minute piece carried by the wind or a bird to a distant point may come in time to fill a tree.
The plant blooms in the summer months and dnring^thjg season much of it is young and tender and unfit for market. Ginners, therefore, do not as a rule buy or gather green moss during the summer because of the prevalence of young strands in the lot. It is not until fall and the young moss produced in the summer has matured and turned grey that the fiber is tough enough to stand the rotting process through which it must be put to remove the bark.
Spanish moss is the most common of all air plants in the sections where it grows from the Dismal swamp of
Virginia to the southernmost tip of Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Florida to Texas. Other species extend southward in the Gulf region through Mexico into Central America. It grows only in very moist localities and even in those regions where it is abundant it is rarely found away from swamps or water.
A rootless plant, it fastens itself to the hark of trees and by means ot specialized scale-like hairs takes its food from air and rain. Spanish moss is an epiphyte, requiring the support of other plants, but it is not a parasite, as often supposed, for it takes no nutriment from the sap of the tree upon which it grows. The seeds lodge in cracks in the bark of trees and germinate and as soon as the young shoots reach a few inches in length, they break away from their cradle and suspend themselves on any support to which they fall or are blown.
In Florida the moss is gathered from the trees by means of a long pole with a hook or double barb on one end. The best time to gather the moss is in the late fall or winter when it is toughest. It grows largely upon liveoaks but is found on water oaks, hickories, cypress and gums and will grow upon any tree, even dead ones, or telegraph wires. It has been contended that it will grow better on dead trees than upon live ones. Moss-gatherers and woodsmen have observed, however, that after a tree is dead the moss on it also will die eventually. This presumably is for lack of the moisture exuded by the live tree, as the moss takes nothing from the sustenance of the tree, although it frequently does kill trees by becoming so thick upon them as to smother them.
While the different grades of moss are resultant largely upon the length of time it is cured, the quality is dependent to some extent upon the character of the green moss and the species of trees from which it is taken. Cypress trees are said to produce the highest quality, but it is more difficult to gather from them than from the other trees because of the height of the trunk and the fact that cypress trees nearly always grow in water. It is almost impossible for anyone not an expert on the subject to differentiate between cypress trees moss and that taken from oaks, gums, and hickories.
When the moss is gathered, it usually is left under the trees in small piles to be picked up by trucks or wagons. It often is found in large quantities upon the ground, especially after a windstorm, and then is comparatively easy to collect, but the fallen moss is not of the best quality if it remains on the ground too long.
In Louisiana, the largest moss-producing state, the methods of gathering and treatment are somewhat different from those employed in Florida. A large part of the Louisiana output is fallen moss, gathered from the bayous where it has dropped from the tall cypress trees, and the common practice of curing is to let it remain under water until the bark rots off before drying and ginning it.
Because of the greater ease with which it is gathered and cured in Louisiana and its abundance there, the state has been able to produce most of the output. Another advantage the industry has in Louisiana is that it was started there shortly after the Civil War, whereas the marketing of moss has been an industry in Florida only about 25 years. Louisiana has more than 50 ginneries and an average annual production of a value estimated at $750,000. Florida ranks second in production, with South Carolina third.
Those who gather the moss may undertake to cure it themselves or sell it directly to a dealer or ginner for curing. The curing process is of utmost importance, for it is upon this that the grade of the finished bale may ultimately depend. The common method of preparing is to wet it down thoroughly by throwing water upon it, and pack it in trenches or pits about four feet deep and four feet wide. This process is known to the trade as pitting. Several tons of green moss are placed in a pit. After a few days, heat is generated in the moss and this moist heat rots the bark and the leaves from the core. The chemical contents of the bark also serve to tan and toughen the hairy core and to color it black or a dark seal-brown.
The longer the moss is allowed to remain pitted, provided it is not more than about eio:ht months and decomposition does not set in, the more thoroughly the bark is removed and the better the fiber. To make the best grade of hair moss, it should remain in the pit about six months. After that, the fiber will be wholly dark, but if prematurely removed, white specks of bark may be seen clinging to the strands.
In two or three months afer the moss is first pitted, it is turned over, the center of the pile being pitched to the outside and the outside to the center. It is again soaked with water and left for another month or two before being removed from the pit. The bulk is then much smaller, as the rotting reduces the weight of the moss about 75 per cent. While in the pit, the moss must be inspected occasionally to see that it does not ferment and injure the
fiber. If the interior of the pile becomes cold, it is pitched over to generate heat and aid decay of the bark.
When the outside grey covering slips readily from the dark fibrous inner portion, it is taken from the pit and hung upon lines to dry. The next step in the process is the ginning. A fairly good second grade can be made after three or four months of curing. A third grade is obtained in a shorter time.
The gin consists in principle of a toothed cylinder working against toothed concaves. The gins are usually constructed to order, although there is a model manufactured in Louisiana. A good type is a heavy steel affair, the teeth of which are carried on a drum revolving some 1200 times a minute. The gin combs and frees the moss of sticks, bark and other debris. It is shaken up with pitchforks or raked back and forth over a lattice work floor to free it from the bark and trash and then run through the gin again. For a higher grade, it may then be run through a second gin on which the teeth are finer and in which it is combed thoroughly before baling. The net result of the process is a coarse, black hair like material. Some of the better qualities of this fiber are colored by being dipped in large tanks containing anilin dyes.
The ultimate yield of finished product is approximately 10 per cent of the weight of the green moss as it was when taken from the trees. The baling is quite simple. The finished hair is placed in presses and compressed into bales which are covered with burlap and wired to prevent loss of hair and keep it clean in transportation.
The use of hair moss is becoming more varied. It is not used as extensively in automobile cushions now as it formerly was for the reason that hair mats cut by machinery are found more expedient in the mass production methods employed in the manufacture of automobiles. Moss requires the deft touch of an upholsterer when used in cushions and upholstery. It is still used in automobile cushions to some extent, however, and is also employed for stuffing mattresses, upholstering furniture and for cushions in airplanes and railway cars, though its most important industrial use is in furniture manufacturing.
It is well adapted for the purposes mentioned because if well prepared, it retains its resilency for many years. It has excellent wearing qualities, being almost indestructible. Some of it left on the ground in the weather for as long as five years has been found quite well preserved at the end of that time, and it is only after such a period of
exposure that it begins to become brittle or break up and decay. When used in mattresses and in cushioning furniture, it is found much cleaner and more sanitary than the horse hair it resembles. When finally it does lose its resiliency in cushioning, it may be worked over and partially renewed and will continue to give service.
Usually the higher the grade the darker the color. Black or very dark brown is preferred. A specially selected hair produced in Florida corresponds to the famous "Black Joe" of Louisiana. These fine grades contain no particles of bark, leaves, or foreign matter whatever, and are much darker, richer in color and glossier than poorer qualities. The proportion of first-class grades runs about 15 per cent of the total production.
From Louisiana Conservation Review Vol I December. 1930 No. 3
SPANISH MOSS A FOREST PRODUCT
By V. H. SONDEREGGER, State Forester
The first comments to be made by the vast number of tourists who travel in the Gulf Coast region, particularly in Louisiana and Florida, are of the charming vistas framed by the massive spreading oak trees festooned and draped with long flowing strands of Spanish moss. The weird and wreath-like appearance of the Spanish moss appeals to all who see this dense mass swinging in the breeze. To the native the moss-draped areas mean very little and are a part of the scenery to which he is accustomed.
Contrary to all ideas of the layman, Spanish moss does not injure the tree, as it is an air plant, and derives its sustenance from the air, using the trees only for an anchor. As the breezes blow the moss back and forth, strands are broken and find new resting places, thus reproducing the moss very prolifically. Scientifically, the moss is known as Tillandsia usneoides.
Spanish moss occurs throughout the Louisiana swamps, lower hardwood bottom regions, and in the piney woods that are adjacent to the Gulf Coast. It will be somewhat of a surprise when the statement is made that the Spanish moss industry is already producing between two and a half million to three million dollars per annum, and that this money is paid to the pickers and gin operators.
The Spanish moss industry is nearly as old as the history of Louisiana. In the early days the settlers or pioneers gathered the moss, cured, and ginned it by hand, making braids, and manufacturing from it bridles, saddle blankets and horse collars. In addition to this, they use the moss for pillows and bed mattresses. In the last twenty years, the reputation of Spanish moss as a filler for mattresses, cushions and pillows became known to the public, and due to its cleanliness and cheapness it has gradually become more and more in demand, until at present the estimated value is in the vicinity of three million dollars per annum.
Spanish moss in its original state is a long gray stringy plant that has a fine black hair in the center and a gray vegetable coat surrounding it. The moss is picked green from the trees, stacked in piles, and soaked in water, permitting a gradual rot of the outer coating. When the moss is cured it is a black color and resembles horse hair. The
cured moss is then ginned and the threads are separated. The foreign material, such as branches, bark and other matter, is extracted. The moss is then baled in small bales similarly to cotton, and sold to the various manufacturing ind us tries.
The Department of Conservation, through its Research Department and the Division of Forestry, is now carrying on a study of the moss industry, as it relates to Louisiana, which is the largest producer of moss in the South. Although the study is not complete, interesting factors have already been obtained and are herein incorporated.
The greater portion of the swamp areas of Louisiana are populated with both white and colored farmers. The white farmers and other citizens gather the moss during both the warm season and winter months. The colored citizens, who are in a great majority tenants on the plantations, spend their idle periods gathering the moss.
A large per cent of the moss grows in the watered areas of the Stale, and the height of moss picking season is usually during the fall and winter months, beginning in November and lasting until April. At this time, the citizens of the area use boats to gather the moss and bring it to high ground, where it is transferred to the farm, stacked in piles, and hung along fences to be cured.
To the citizens of Louisiana, the Spanish moss industry is a "lagniappe crop." or an extra revenue that Nature furnishes in addition to the other resources. Investigation so far has shown that the average moss picker picks five hundred pounds of moss a day, and that a gin can work seventy-eight thousand pounds of dry moss. Tentative figures show that it takes one hundred and forty-four moss pickers to keep a daily gin production of seventy-eight thousand pounds cured moss going. The average labor employed at a gin alone will vary from fifteen to thirty men, and the average wages paid vary from $1.50 to $2.00 per day; the gin operates one hundred and fifty days a year.
Consequently, Spanish moss, a product of Nature and one that grows very rapidly and produces large results, is a very important auxiliary of the Forest Products Industry, and of vast benefit to the residents throughout the coastal area of Louisiana.
Instances have been cited by our investigator where a great deal of ready cash is obtained by citizens who make special efforts to collect moss whenever there is need for ready cash. In checking up one family of five people living in the hardwood bottoms in the moss district, the following figures were obtained:
One hundred thousand pounds of green moss were sold this year, and in addition, twenty thousand pounds of cured moss. The green moss was sold at 2l/^c a pound, and the cured moss at 3c per pound. However, the prices of moss sales depend upon the hauling distance and the local markets. The average prices on green moss for the whole region depend upon the four grades. Low grades yield l34c per pound, next grade 2'Ac per pound, next grade 2:Vtc per pound and the next grade 3c per pound. The ginned moss has a variable sale price, depending upon supply and demand. The average price recorded has been $9.17 per hundred pounds.
To the tourist, Spanish moss has an esthetic value and is appreciated for the weird and mysterious aspect it gives to our swamps and hardwood regions; but to the citizen of Louisiana, Spanish moss is a veritable gold mine of the air. It is a savings bank, and always at hand to gather whenever he needs funds.
Spanish moss is now becoming well known, and the demands are becoming greater each year. At this time, when the farmers have lost their crops and suffered heavy losses during the 1930 drouth, the moss industry is an important economic factor. A great many citizens are now gathering moss to earn the needed cash to pay their bills until the next crop is ready.
Modern methods are being developed, new machinery installed, and the moss industry is rapidly becoming a very important economic item in the industrial area of our forested regions.
Another interesting fact is that Spanish moss is so prolific that there is very little danger of destroying the base of supply.
Partial List of Spanish Moss Gins in Louisiana
DIVISION OP FORESTRY
DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION New Orleans, Louisiana
Name of Company Address
Standard Moss Factory...................................Red Cross, La
Richard Wilhelom Moss Gin..........................Rosedale, La.
J. I. Pinsonnat Moss Gin....................................Livonia, La.
Angelloz Moss Gin......................................Maringouin, La.
Schwing Moss Company, Inc.....................Plaquemine, La.
L. J. Russ Moss Company............................New Roads, La.
Luke B. Rabin Moss Company
Stevens & Case......................
White Castle, La.
...Opelousas, La. Plaquemine, La. Plaquemine, La.
Evangeline Moss Manufacturing Co.....St. Martinsville, La.
Bach David & Company, 411 Decatur St. New Orleans, La. Crescent City Moss Ginnery, 8201 Perdido St.
Kohlman Moss & Cotton Felt Mfg. Co., 3101 Chartres St.
..........................................................New Orleans, La.
Gins for cleaning moss are made by the Johnson Iron Works, Now Orleans. La., and by Henry Nadler, Plaque-mine, La.
The following companies are among the leading dealers handling Southern moss:
Borgwardt & Ernst Co., Chicago, 111. Forfeich & Co., Morgan City, La. Geo. Giles & Co., Ocala, Fla. Louis Kohlman, New Orleans. La. Geo. D. Luce, New Orleans, La. Phoenix Furniture Co., Charleston, N. C. E- Schloss, Baton Rouge, La. Septime L. Theard, New Orleans, La. Morley Cypress Co., Morley, La.
Peoples Moss Gin Company..........
Louisiana Moss Products Co.. Inc
E. P. Blanchard.............................
Rosson Moss Company..................
.Plaquemine, La. Morgan City, La.
LYSTER H. DEWEY.
SPANISH MOSSA FOREST BY-PRODUCT IN LOUISIANA
By G. H. LENTZ, Special Investigator Louisiana Division of Forestry The southern forests, particularly the hardwood and cypress forests, present a very unique and picturesque appearance due to the festoons of Tillandsia or Spanish moss which bedeck them. This moss uses the tree as a support, but it is not parasitic and derives no real nourishment from the tree itself; it is a true epiphyte. Dr. Schimper, in his Plant-Geography published in Oxford in 1903, makes the following statement concerning Tillandsia:
"This most remarkable of all epiphytes, often completely covering the trees in tropical and sub-tropical America, consists of shoots often far more than a meter in length, thin as thread and with narrow grass-like leaves, and only in early youth fixed to the surface of the supporting plant by weak roots that soon dry up. The plants of Tillandsia owe their attachment to the fact that the basal parts of their axis twine around the twigs of the host.The dispersal of the plant takes less by seed than by vegetative means, through the transport of severed shoots, by the agency of wind or of birds."
On the patriarchal cypress these festoons of moss seem to be the heaviest, and, in some cases, are so dense that very little of the foliage of the tree can be seen. But this moss also occurs in great quantities on the hardwoods as well, and especially on the gums, live and water oaks, and pecans.
Aside from its aesthetic value the moss is of importance due to the role it plays as a harbinger of the cotton boll weevil, and in that it provides a merchantable product. The cotton planters -would well be rid of the moss, for here many of the weevils spend the winter, and cotton fields lying adjacent to moss-draped timber are more heavily infested with the weevil. In a study earned on in southern Louisiana by the Bureau of Entomology of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, it was found that 365 weevils, on an average wintered in a ton of moss. As yet no means of combating the weevil in its winter stage has been developed, and it is next to impossible to eradicate the moss.
The moss has a utilitarian value ; it is collected on a commercial scale in many sections, particularly in the Louisiana parishes south of the Red River. There have been numerous cases where the moss rights on certain tracts of timber have been sold to moss pickers. In most cases, however, the moss is gathered on timberlands without any
right having been obtained from the owner. The picking has been carried on by squatters, both white and negro, as their main occupation, while for others the income from the sale of moss has been only a side line.
The easiest method of collecting moss is for the pickers to follow behind a logging operation and pull the strands from the branches and tops that have been left. Often they become a nuisance to the woods foreman, because they are so anxious to get the moss from a certain tree that they can hardly wait for the sawyers to drop it. On one logging operation in central Louisiana the lumber company owning and cutting the timber has granted the pickers the moss rights in exchange for half of the final returns, the pickers to do all of the gathering and curing. In this particular case an old negro was granted the moss rights, and he had his entire family helping him gather the greenish gray moss from the fallen tops. An old de-lapidated wagon and an ancient mule, equally delapidat-ed, made up his woods equipment. Three grown folks and three children gathered the moss, and with the aid of the mule and wagon, hauled in about a ton a day, the haul being about a mile; but the cost in time or labor seldom seems to enter into consideration.
In the "Cajun" country, or the parishes along the Teche River, where the Acadian exiles from Nova Scotia took up their abode prior to the Revolutionary War, the "Cajun" woodsmen, fishermen, and trappers often collect moss during the closed season on hunting and trapping or when other employment is not at hand. The country is a tangle of canals, lakes, rivers and bayous, and these waterways take the place of roads. The region is subject to frequent overflows, and at such times the moss is often gathered in a pirogue or bateau, and the high water enables the picker to reach well into the tree tops. A long slender pole with a metal hook attached at the end also helps to pull down strands above ordinary reach.
Moss that is still alive and growing is spoken of as green moss. On the same tree with green moss may be found strands of the partly cured moss, grayish-black in color. The. usable part of the moss is the hard black center thread or fiber which looks like black horse hair. This strand is surrounded by a greenish-gray layer, making the whole the thickness of an ordinary piece of string. The strands branch from time to time by sending out side shoots, and the various strands may then intertwine, forming a loose mass of many strands.
After the moss has been collected, it is carried either on a man's back, by boat, or by cart to a central point, usually
the picker's shack, where it is cured. This curing process has for its object the removal of the outer layer of soft tissue so that only the black inner strand shall remain. The usual method of curing is to pile the moss in mounds about
6 feet square and 4 feet high. It is piled when wet and a sort of fermentation and slow combustion takes place, causing the outer layer to rot off. A pile is allowed to remain undisturbed for a month to a month and ore-half and is then worked over into a new pile by placing the top layers on the ground as though the pile had been turned over. Ordinarily, three months is sufficient time for complete curing. The moss is then hung on racks, fences, or any available support where it is exposed to the elements; the rain helps to wash away the loose outer tissue, and the sun dries and hardens the fiber. When it is finally cured it is stored in a shed or in any other dry place till it can be sold to a moss gin.
Moss, after it has been gathered and cured, has lost about two-thirds of its original weight and bulk so that a ton of green moss yields only about 700 pounds of black moss. This is worth from 2% to 3 cents per pound on an average, and is usually sold to some gin operator who buys the moss from a large section of country. The price paid depends upon the cleanness of the moss, its freedom from sticks, leaves, and other trash, and its color. Properly cured, the strands are quite black and vary in length up to several feet. When not properly cured, the fiber has a brownish-black color and has particles of the outer layer still adhering to it. The moss from cypress seems to yield the longest and blackest threads and is called "Black John;" it also commands the best price from the gin operator, possibly as much as 4 to 5 cents per pound.
At the moss gin the cured moss goes through a sorting and cleaning process, sticks and trash are picked out by hand, the fibers are pulled apart and then fed into a machine or gin that further straightens out the fibers and removes the foreign particles. Finally, the cured clean moss is compressed and packed in bales of about 135 pounds each. During the cleaning process there is a loss of about 15 or 20 per cent due to the removal of trash and short broken fibers that are eliminated by the gin. The finished product, which is used for stuffing upholstered furniture, for auto seats, mattresses, and the like, brings about 6 to
7 cents per pound to the gin operator.
This is just another minor forest product but one which is of considerable importance to the Mississippi Delta and along the Atchafalaya River. The forest trees furnish the wood to make furniture and automobile bodies, and the Spanish moss goes to make them more comfortable.
DEPARTMENT OP COMMERCE
BUREAU OF FOREIGN" AND DOMESTIC COMMERCE TEXTILE DIVISION
PRODUCTION AND MARKETING OF SOUTHERN (SPANISH) MOSS IN THE UNITED STATES
Based on Questionnaire Surveys Made by Special Agent FRANCIS E. SIMMONS USES OR MARKETS FOR SOUTHERN MOSS
Southern (Spanish) moss. Dendropogon usnecides, is a
vegetable hair produced in the southeastern part of the United States and widely used as a filler or stuffing in upholstering furniture. The best grades of moss are said to possess a resiliency that endures many years and therefore to be particularly suitable for upholstery purposes; 90 per cent of the supply going into furniture, according to trade estimate's.
The upholstering of airplane, automobile and railway car seats consumes the bulk of the remaining quantity of moss. Minor uses include the filling of mattresses, padding of various articles, journal box packing and plaster binder. With the use of inner springs to furnish resiliency, the once important market for moss in mattresses has declined except possibly in moss-producing areas, tradesmen state.
Moss consumption in furniture upholstering is on the increase, according to the National Association of Furniture Manufacturers. Inc.. 22"> N. .Michigan Boulevard, Chicago, 111. Probably 60 per cent of the better grades of furniture are stuffed either with moss alone or in combination with hair, the association estimates, but owing to the predominance of popular-priced furniture cotton linters or waste comprise about three-fourths of the total quantity of upholstered furniture fillers.
The potential consumers of Southern moss are the industries producing upholstered furniture and other articles listed above as requiring moss. Names and addresses of such concerns can be secured from general trade directories as Thomas' Register of American Manufacturers or MacRae's Blue Book and Hendricks Commercial Register.
SUBSTITUTE OR COMPETITIVE MATERIALS Southern moss has a number of competitive materials or substitutes, depending in importance on the use to be serv-
ed, including: Animal hair, cotton linters or waste, imported palm fiber or crin vegetal (vegetable "horsehair"), native palm fiber, kapok, coir or coco nut fiber, excelsior, straw, istle, sisal, sea grass, tow of flax and various other fibers, and in a sense, inner springs.
The most direct competition, according to the trade, comes from African palm fiber or crin vegetal on a price basis and from high-grade long curled animal hair on quality. Cotton linters and waste, while of tremendous importance in furniture upholstery, serve a somewhat different purpose than does moss, dealers in the latter material say.
OCCURRENCE AND OUTPUT
Southern moss, Dendropogon usneoides, is not a true moss but a plant belonging to the pineapple family, an epiphyte or non-parasitic growth found on trees in moist regions from the Dismal swamp of Virginia along the coast to Florida and westward to Louisiana and Texas, according to the Office of Fiber Plants, U- S. Department of Agriculture. Other species extend southward in the Gulf region through .Mexico to Central America. It is rarely found away from swamps or open water. Usnea barbata, a tree lichen found in California and Oregon, is somewhat similar but too brittle for upholstery filler and like uses of Southern moss.
Despite its range of occurrence. Southern moss enters commercial channels almost entirely from the states of Louisiana and Florida. There are no official figures on quantity of moss produced, and a complete record of such would be difficult to secure because of the small-scale and scattered production prevailing within the industry. The biennial Census of Manufacturers, covering about a dozen of the larger ginners, shows an output valued at $315,269 in 1931, $1,500,529 in 1929, .$865,572 in 1927 and $1,-068,564 in 1925.
Moss production was estimated at 18.800.000 pounds in 1926 and 11.200,000 pounds in 1928, according to the U. S. Tariff Commission.* Louisiana had an average of about 30 gins in operation during the three-year period 1931-33 and turned out around 10,000.000 pounds of finished moss annually valued at approximately 8500,000. it is estimated by one of the leading producers of that state. A prominent Florida producer slates: "Two ginners in Florida and about five in Louisiana account for 75 per cent of the total moss output, with the rest being distributed among about 50 smaller ginners."
Report to the President on Crin Vegetal, Klax Upholstery Tow end Spanish Moss (1032).
GATHERING. CURING ND GINNING
Moss gathering is largely a part-time or off-season occupation, one ginner stating it is difficult to obtain dry cured moss when crops or hunting and fishing are good. "Green moss," taken direct from trees, is said to constitute the bulk of the supply, but dead moss collected off the ground or from swamps is just as satisfactory and may in fact be in an advanced stage of curing. The policy of ginners may vary, but usually they are willing to buy dry cured moss in quantities ranging from one bale upward. Their price from 1931-33 for this material was reported variously between 1 and 3 cents a pound.
The process of curing which is necessary before the "green" moss is ready for ginning consists of removing the outer bark, thereby baring the hair-like material of commerce. Piled in heaps 4 or 5 feet high, the moss is thorough- wetted and then allowed to ferment for 3 or 4 weeks. At that time the pile is turned over, again wetted and left for a similar period. According to one authority, "the longer the moss remains in the pile to rot, the blacker and better the resulting fiber. .Moss that has lain four v. c.-ks is marketable, bill only of second grade . ."'
In the course of this curing process a reduction of from 75-80 per cent of the green weight occurs, and when the dry cured moss is ginned the weight is again cut in half. In other words, 1000 pounds of green moss would yield about 250 pounds of dry cured moss, which in turn would yield 125 pounds of ginned moss. The baled weight of ginned moss, incidentally, ranges from 125 to 150 pounds.
Moss gins are simply constructed, consisting essentially of a tooth cylinder revolving within a toothed concave partially inclosing the drum. This loosens the moss, further cleans it. and generally prepares it for sorting, after which it is graded and baled for the trade. A similar gin is used by upholsterers to loosen the moss before it is put in place in a piece of furniture or other article.
GRADES AND PRICES
Grades of Southern moss are not standardized but are fairly uniform and simple. They depend mainly upon the care taken in curing and in ginning. According to their curing, mosses may be known as light brown, dark brown or mixed, and black, and these may be single or double ginned. Grading follows the color classifications; light brown being equivalent to grade XX. dark brown or mixed to grade XXX. and black to XXXX. the latter two being of chief importance.
Moss prices are usually quoted f. o. b. shipping point. Prior to 1930 the price of ginned mosses ranged from about 7 to 12 cents a pound, but in the past few years the range has been approximately 4 to 8 cents. There follows a composite table based on the raw moss costs and ginned moss prices submitted by a number of ginners:
1 Raw Moss Costs | Ginned Moss Prices
Grade XX............... XXX............ xxxx.........1 Color J 1932 Lt. Br......... 1.00c Dk. Br 1.25c Black........... 1.50c | 1933 I 1.10c 1.50c 1.75c | 1934 I 1932 1.25c i 4.00c 1.75c 4.75c | 2.25c 5.50c | 1933 4.50c 5.25c 6.50c 1934 .."v-' 5.00c 6.00c 7.37.',c
PRODUCERS AND DEALERS
Published information on the membership of the Southern moss trade is meager. The following list of producers and dealers furnished by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, members of the moss trade and published references, is submitted as a convenience but with the usual Bureau waiver of responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of the list or for the reliability of the concerns:
In LouisianaLuke B. Babin, Whitecastle; David Bach and Co., 413 Decatur St., New Orleans; Baton Rouge Trading Company, Baton Rouge; E. P. Blanchard, Plaquemine; J. M. & L. Coco, Moreauville; Cotton Products Co-, Inc., Opelcusas; F. Dupont, Simmesport; M. Dupont, Bunkie; Evageline Moss Co., St. Martinsville; Kohlman Moss Mfg. Co., Clouet and Chartres Streets, New Orleans; Mermentau Moss Co., Mermentau; Napoleonville Moss Co., Napoleonville; 'Newellton Elevator Co., Newellton; Peoples Moss Gin Co., Palmetto; and the Schwing Moss Co., Plaquemine.
In FloridaVego Hair Manufacturing Co., Gainesville, and Wootton Fibre Co., 2441 Dennis St., Jacksonville.
The following is a list of Moss Plants in Florida insofar as we have been able to obtain them at this office : Central Florida Fiber Company, Ocala ; Southern Products Company, Palatka; Bodow Moss and Fiber Company, Eagle Lake; W. R. Dougan, Auburndale.