S / I-
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NATHAN MAYO, Commissioner
There are many items in the State of Florida that have
brought forth many comments from our visitors, but few have
brought out the widely diversified remarks made by the tourists
from other States who see the vast forests of cypress, pine and
live oak trees festooned and draped so extensively with the lonu
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 such but it can and does have its effects on the
growth of the tree. It is an air plant and derives its sustenance
from the air, using the trees mainly as 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.
Spanish moss occurs throughout the State of Florida, primarily
in the swamplands, in the lower hardwood bottom regions and
in the piney woods, particularly those adjacent to the Gulf coast.
The industry of using the moss is nearly as old as the history of
the State, for in the early days the settlers or pioneers gathered
the moss, cured and ginned it by hand and used the fibers for
making braids, and for use in bridles, saddle blankets, and horse
collars. It has just been within the past 40 years, however, that
the reputation of Spanish moss as a quality filler for mattresses.
cushions and pillows became known to the public. And while it
is true that the industry has declined somewhat in recent years
because of the competition with other padding and filling
materials, there are still a large number of families in the state
that 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 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 family (Bromeliaceae). The botanical
name for it is Dendropogon usneoides. For over 150 years it
bore the scientific 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 hair 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 seeds are equipped with
;* -1 1 1 1 n .1 .1 1 .1 1 1 1
the uult region tnrougn Mexico into central America. It grows
best in very moist localities, but can also be found awav from
swamps or water.
Live oaks festooned with Spanish moss.
A rootless plallt, it fastens itself to the bark of trees and by
means of 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 moss is in the late fall or winter when it is toughest.
It grows largely upon live oaks 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 can kill trees
by becoming so thick upon them as to smother them. Moss also
tends to shade out the lower leaves and occasionally to cause the
weak limbs to break from the weight of the moss, particularly
when it is heavily laden with rain water.
The value and grade of Spanish or southern moss as an
upholstery material depends largely upon thorough care in
selecting the growing moss, upon its proper cure, and prepara-
tion 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 15 per cent of
the bulk weight of the raw material.
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
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 bavous where it has dropped from
Strands of Silver Moss
the tall cypress trees, and the common practice of curing is to Ie
it remain under water until the bark rots off before drying anm
Because of the greater ease with which it is gathered am
cured in Louisiana and its abundance there, the state has beei
able to produce most of the output. Another advantage th
industry has in Louisiana is that it was started there shortly afte
the Civil War, whereas the marketing of moss has been an indus
try in Florida only about 50 years. Louisiana has an average
annual production of a value estimated at more than $2,000,00C
Florida ranks second in production, with South Carolina third
Moss-bearing forests in Florida are very spotted and widely]
scattered. Cypress swamps and riversides are prolific in mos
production, but much of it is out of reach on tall trees with ni
low limbs for climbing. Oak forests, even on highlands, are oftel
heavy moss producers. The scrub cypress timbered sections o
the Everglades look "mossy," but it is exceedingly difficult to ge
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Moss that has been cured for three to six months, depending upon the
quality wanted, is placed on fences around a moss ginning plant to dry out
before the final processing.
been cured but not ginned, and in his right hand he holds the final product
which he sells.
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 ginnerv and of marketing the product.
Those who gather tile 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 almost 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 hair 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 eight 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 after 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 removing 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.
Another 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
tile outer layer to rot off. A pile is allowed to remain undisturbed
for a month to a month and one-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 in
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 ia
There are a number of other curing processes but those in-
volving a hurry-up process very often have a tendency to weaken
and injure the fiber.
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 500 to 700 pounds of cured moss. This
is worth from 4 to 5 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 depends upon the cleanness
ie use of moss is \aried. It is not used as extensi
raped trees are found everywhere in Florida.
partially renewed an(
y the higher the grade the darker the color. Black or
brown is preferred. Specially selected hairs produced
contain no particles of bark, leaves, or foreign matter,
and are much darker, richer in color and glossier than
lalities. The proportion of first grades runs about
nt of the total fiber production.
of Southern moss are not standardized but are fairly
nd simple. According to their curing the mosses may
as light brown, dark brown, or mixed, and black and
Sbe single or double ginned.
tourist, Spanish moss has an esthetic value and is
*d for the weird and mysterious aspects it gives to our
nd hardwood regions. But to those who work with it,
s a veritable silver mine of the air. It is a savings bank
,s at hand to gather.
panics in Florida
g of Spanish moss was formerly on a larger scale, but
,e conditions (such as other padding and filling
have resulted in a decrease in this business. At one
WPrP rnnre than 10 nolih nlnnt in Flnrld! nnrl mnn-e
eir idle periods gathering the moss. The height of
king season, however, seems to be when farm fork
usually during the fall and winter months. from
nish moss industry is an extra revenue crop, one that
ishes in addition to her other resources. Investigation
that the average moss picker can gather up to 500
;reen moss a day and four members of a family can
Lup a ton of moss a day. This means extra monev in
of persons who otherwise would be idle.
s sold to a ginner, different things like logs, dead animals and
netimes found inside the bundles. Pictured are two squirrels
ill of green moss, which in this case served as a home for wildlife.
plants within the
uncis ot moss. At tnat time Louisiana turned out
0,000 pounds of this production for a value of
so at the same time one of the Florida ginners
ginners in Florida and about five in Louisiana
75 per cent of the total moss output, with the rest
cited among about 50 smaller ginners."
[ Census of Manufacturers, the Padding and
Filling industry shipped products valued at
ere has been some
dangerous tor the fiber is most indigestible. Some
say, however, that the moss has more food value than
and its use has the possibility of improving meat qualit'v.
in waste, composed of the outer bark,. the thin inner
trash that is found in the cured moss, is sometimes used
thing material, and has a small value as organic matter.
est quality of moss goes into such things as stuffing for
ar pads. The moss is used, also, to shade plants and
them for protection from frost.
university of Florida Engineering and Industrial Experi-
ion has suggested that the wax which can be recovered
nish moss may have commercial possibilities. It is
carnauba wax and makes an excellent polish for auto-
Other by-products which might some dav become
medicine include estrogens, carotene, vitamins A and
)tics, antibacterial agents, and materials active against
in West, botanist with the University of Florida Agricul-
eriment Station, says that if you don't want moss grow-
ir trees, particularly around your lawn, you can kill it
ng with 6-2-100 bordeaux mixture (6 pounds copper
)r bluestone. 2 pounds lime and 100 gallons of matter)
ead arsenate ( 2 pounds lead arsenate in 100 gallons of
'he tough inner fibers will remain hanging on the trees
months. It may be necessary to spray every second
11 any new moss that has blown in and made a horn
)lntry trails are restful under a canopy of Spanish moss.