Spanish moss is an epiphyte (a plant that lives upon other plants; from Greek "epi"=upon "phyte"=plant), which absorbs nutrients (especially calcium) and water from the air and rainfall. Spanish moss is colloquially known as "air plant". It is not a biological parasite in the same sense as another epiphyte, mistletoe (it does not burrow into the tree and suck out nutrients)- however this is using a technical meaning of "parasite" of the biological community. By using a tree's structure it blocks out sunlight that would otherwise fall on the host tree's own leaves. The amount of sunlight it blocks is proportional to the amount it reduces tree growth depending on the tree type. On some trees only smaller or lower branches will die but the tree will grow at a slower rate.
It can grow so thickly on tree limbs that it gives a somewhat "gothic" appearance to the landscape, and while it rarely kills the trees it lowers their growth rate by reducing the amount of light to a tree's own leaves. It also increases wind resistance, which can prove fatal to a tree in hurricanes.
In the southern
Spanish Moss shelters a number of creatures, including chiggers, rat snakes and three species of bats.
A Cuban came to the area with his Spanish fiancée in the 1700s to start a plantation near the city. The most striking feature of the bride-to-be was her beautiful, flowing raven hair. As the couple was walking through the forest to reach the location of their future plantation, they were attacked and killed by an army of the Cherokee tribe, who were not happy to have these strangers on their land. As a final warning to stay away from the Cherokee nation, they cut off the long, dark hair of the bride-to-be and threw it up into an oak tree. As they came back day after day, week after week, they noticed that the hair had shriveled and turned grey and had also spread throughout the tree. Wherever the Cherokees went, the moss followed them and would eventually chase them out of their homeland of