Revised by Jack Shoemaker
(Photography by Trent Rogers)
State of Florida
Department of Agriculture
NATHAN MAYO, Commissioner
There are many items in the State of Florida that have
broughtt forth many comments from our visitors, but few have
broughtt out the widely diversified remarks made by the tourists
rom other States who see the vast forests of cypress, pine and
ive oak trees festooned and draped so extensively with the long
lowing strands of Spanish moss.
The weird and wreath-like appearance of the Spanish moss
appealss to all who see this dense mass swinging in the breeze.
Fo the native, the moss-draped areas mean very little and are a
)art of the scenery to which he is accustomed.
Contrary to all ideas of the layman, Spanish moss does not
njure the tree as such but it can and does have its effects on the
;rowth of the tree. It is an air plant and derives its sustenance
rom the air, using the trees mainly as an anchor. As the breezes
)low the moss back and forth, strands are broken and find new
testing places, thus reproducing the moss very prolifically.
Spanish moss occurs throughout the State of Florida, primarily
n the swamplands, in the lower hardwood bottom regions and
n the piney woods, particularly those adjacent to the Gulf coast.
Fhe industry of using the moss is nearly as old as the history of
he State, for in the early days the settlers or pioneers gathered
he moss, cured and ginned it by hand and used the fibers for
making braids, and for use in bridles, saddle blankets, and horse
dollars It has just been within the past 40 years, however, that
he reputation of Spanish moss as a quality filler for mattresses.
cushionss and pillows became known to the public. And while it
s true that the industry has declined somewhat in recent years
becausee of the competition with other padding and filling
materials, there are still a large number of families in the state
hat derive all or part of their income from "the clothing of the
SPANISH MOSS IN FLORIDA
BY JACK SHOEMAKER
The plant known variously as Spanish, or southern or Florid,
moss, and from its appearance sometimes called "old man';
beard," resembles a lichen and hangs in long festoons from th(
branches of trees. It is not a true moss at all but a fiber plan
belonging to the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae). The botanical
name for it is Dendropogon usneoides. For over 150 years i
bore the scientific name of Tillandsia usneoides, but modern
students hold that it is so distinct from other Tillandsias ii
technical characters as to belong in a separate genus.
The long strands, attaining a maximum length of three or fou:
yards, consist of a core of black vegetable hair covered by a gre,
bark. Spanish moss is a flowering plant, the strands growing
from the flower or seed. The small flowers are yellowish-greei
and slightly fragrant at night. The seeds are equipped witl
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tIMe L-tli UlOll legi LOUll IVuXIiU 111x 0 l .eiitlrai Aimenca. it grow
best in very moist localities, but can also be found away froi
swamps or water.
Live oaks festooned with Spanish moss.
'ed in Florida. A large part of the Louisia
noss, gathered from the bayous where it has c
Strands of Silver Moss
the tall cypress trees, and the common practice of curing is to le
remain under water until the bark rots off before drying a
Because of the greater ease with which it is gathered a
cured in Louisiana and its abundance there, the state has b(
able to produce most of the output. Another advantage I
industry has in Louisiana is that it was started there shortly af
the Civil War, whereas the marketing of moss has been an ind
try in Florida only about 50 years. Louisiana has an aver,
annual production of a value estimated at more than $2,000,0
Florida ranks second in production, with South Carolina their.
Moss-bearing forests in Florida are very spotted and wid
scattered. Cypress swamps and riversides are prolific in m
production, but much of it is out of reach on tall trees with
low limbs for climbing. Oak forests, even on highlands, are of
heavy moss producers. The scrub cypress timbered sections
the Everglades look "mossy," but it is exceedingly difficult to
annx kind nf cnnvpvanCe through the woods to haul it out. A
Moss that has been cured for three to six months, depending upon
quality wanted, is placed on fences around a moss ginning plant to dry
before the final processing.
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ich he sells.
to make a survey of the state to find the most promising moss-
bearing sections, and with the more favorable surroundings foi
the bringing of moss to the ginnery and of marketing the product.
Those who gather the moss may undertake to cure it them.
selves or sell it directly to a dealer or ginner for curing. ThE
gatherers are paid about $14.00 a ton for the green moss. 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 deer
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 barl
and the leaves from the core. The chemical contents of the bard
also serve to tan and toughen the hairy core and to color it blaci
or a dark seal-brown.
The longer the moss is allowed to remain pitted, provided i
is not more than about eight months and decomposition does no
set in, the more thoroughly the bark is removed and the bette:
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 whollb
dark, but if prematurely removed, white specks of bark may b<
seen clinging to the strands.
In two or three months after the moss is first pitted, it i
turned over, the center of the pile being pitched to the outside
and the outside to the center. It is again soaked with water an(
left for another month or two before being removed from the pit
The bulk is then much smaller, as the rotting reduces the weigh
of the moss about 75 per cent. While in the pit, the moss mus
be inspected occasionally to see that it does not ferment an(
injure the fiber. If the interior of the pile becomes cold, it i:
pitched over to generate heat and aid decay of the bark.
When the outside grey covering slips readily from the darl
fibrous inner portion, it is taken from the pit and hung upon line
to dry. The next step in the process is the ainnina. A fairly eoo(
id been turned over. Ordinaril
me for complete curing. The m,
*s, or any available support where
ie rain helps to wash away the loc
es and hardens the fiber. When it
shed or in any other dry place til]
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beine placed on a conveyor belt and then going through the
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longest and blackest threads and is called "Black John;" it also
commands the best price from the gin operator.
The next step in the process is the ginning. 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. 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 gin consists in principle of a toothed cylinder working
against toothed concaves. The gins are usually constructed to
order, although there are some models manufactured. 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 bailing. 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
The ultimate yield of finished product is approximately 15 to
20 per cent of the weight of the green moss as it was when taken
from the trees. The bailing is quite simple. The finished hair is
placed in presses and compressed into bales of from 60 to 135
pounds which are covered with burlap and wired to prevent loss
of hair and keep it clean in transportation. Depending upon the
quality of the moss, it sells for 15 to 35 cents a pound.
Use of Moss
The use of moss is varied. It is not used as extensively in
automobile cushions now as it formerly was for the reason that
Moss-draped trees are found everywhere in Florida.
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It is well adapted for the purposes mentioned because if we
prepared, it retains its resiliency for many years. It has excelled
wearing qualities, being almost indestructible. Some of it left c
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 aft4
such a period of exposure that it begins to become brittle (
break up and decay. When used in mattresses and in cushionir
furniture, it is found much cleaner and more sanitary than tl
horse hair it resembles. When finally it does lose its resiliency :
cushioning, it may be worked over and partially renewed an
will continue to give service. Another factor influencing its u!
is that it does not harbor vermin.
Usually the higher the grade the darker the color. Black i
very dark brown is preferred. Specially selected hairs produce
in Florida contain no particles of bark, leaves, or foreign matte
whatever, and are much darker, richer in color and glossier thi
poorer qualities. The proportion of first class grades runs aboi
15 per cent of the total fiber production.
Grades of Southern moss are not standardized but are fair
uniform and simple. According to their curing, the mosses mt
be known as light brown, dark brown, or mixed, and black ar
these may be single or double ginned.
To the tourist, Spanish moss has an esthetic value and
appreciated for the weird and mysterious aspect it gives to ol
swamps and hardwood regions. But to those who work with :
the moss is a veritable silver mine of the air. It is a savings bar
and always at hand to gather.
Two Companies in Florida
Ginning of Spanish moss was formerly on a larger scale, bi
competitive conditions (such as other padding and fillir
products) have resulted in a decrease in this business. At oi
time there were more than 10 such plants in Florida and mo:
inning Company of Ocala. Both of
irchase green or cured moss. It is estimated that approximately
200 to 1,500 persons are engaged-on a part-time or full-time
isis-in gathering and selling moss to these companies.
The moss is gathered during both the warm season and the
inter months, with both white farmers and colored tenants
'ending their idle periods gathering the moss. The height of
e moss-picking season, however, seems to be when farm work
slack, usually during the fall and winter months, from
november to April.
The Spanish moss industry is an extra revenue crop, one that
ature furnishes in addition to her other resources. Investigation
Is shown that the average moss picker can gather up to 500
iunds of green moss a day and four members of a family can
Isily pick up a ton of moss a day. This means extra monev in
e pockets of persons who otherwise would be idle.
'hen moss is sold to a ginner, different things like logs, dead animals and
cks are sometimes found inside the bundles. Pictured are two squirrels
und in a ball of green moss, which in this case served as a home for wildlife.
use in stuffing mattresses, upholst(
shions and many other industrial uses.
149,000,000. The south's part of this industry is somewhere in
he neighborhood of $19,267,000, with an estimated $:3,000,000 of
hat obtained through the Spanish moss industry. In the State of
1lorida there are only two major moss manufacturers with total
ales each year grossing approximately $550,000.
In research work with Spanish moss, there has been some
mention of using this fiber for cattle feed in addition to certain
their materials. It has been found if cattle eat too much of it.
: can be dangerous for the fiber is most indigestible. Some
attlemen say, however, that the moss has more food value than
at straw and its use has the possibility of improving meat quality.
The gin waste, composed of the outer bark, the thin inner
ark and trash that is found in the cured moss, is sometimes used
s a mulching material, and has a small value as organic matter.
'he poorest quality of moss goes into such things as stuffing for
orse collar pads. The moss is used, also, to shade plants and
Cover them for protection from frost.
The University of Florida Engineering and Industrial Experi-
ient Station has suggested that the wax which can be recovered
rom Spanish moss may have commercial possibilities. It is
milar to carnauba wax and makes an excellent polish for auto-
iobiles. Other by-products which might some day become
seful in medicine include estrogens, carotene, vitamins A and
!, antibiotics, antibacterial agents, and materials active against
Erdman West, botanist with the University of Florida Agricul-
iral Experiment Station, says that if you don't want moss grow-
ig in your trees, particularly around your lawn, you can kill it
y spraying with 6-2-100 bordeaux mixture (6 pounds copper
ilphate or bluestone, 2 pounds lime and 100 gallons of water)
r 2-100 lead arsenate (2 pounds lead arsenate in 100 gallons of
'ater). The tough inner fibers will remain hanging on the trees
>r many months. It may be necessary to spray every second
ear to kill any new moss that has blown in and made a home