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Letter to the editor: Living Spanish moss does not have chiggers
Letter to the Editor generic


A baseless rumor has been spreading about our beautiful Spanish moss.

I heard it first from visitors at the Henry Ford Museum. However, the most cited source of this rumor seems to be the Savannah Historic City guides! I have found that most guides are not from here and are parroting what they have heard. The big lie is, and I, in opposition, state emphatically and without reservation, about chiggers, also known as Redbugs. Redbugs are insidious microscopic creatures that can make your life miserable. They do not live in our beautiful Spanish moss growing in our trees. However dead moss that has been laying on the ground for any time is a different story.

Chiggers need moisture. They reside in tall grass and under damp detritus. If it’s too dry they die. The larval do not bite or burrow into the skin. They salivate a fluid that melts skin, the skin cells that we are shedding all the time. That is what they eat. Their usual source of food is the skin of snakes, frogs and such. None of which you will generally find hanging around in the Spanish moss.

The adult Red Bugs feed on plant materials and other small arthropods. Again, not to be found in hanging moss but in ample supply on the ground. Chiggers live on the ground, under stuff! Period!

The itching red marks they leave on your skin are simply that, marks. You find out about four hours after infestation how serious it is. The chigger larval are in a new location. A hot shower is the first step to relief. A swab with alcohol will help with the incessant itching.

Summertime, wear pants, shoes and socks when in woods or high grass. Spray your socks and ankles with mosquito spray.

Back to the Spanish moss. I have heard a lot of miss-information about Spanish moss. There is trouble in River City because I read the wrong information right here in this newspaper!

There is a misconception that the moss kills trees. It absolutely does not. The moss draws its nutrition from dust and air. It lives, in part, off of the nutrients that a tree casts off as it ages. Trees draped in Spanish moss, such as the majestic Live Oak, are growing, ageing and shedding those nutrients. That draws the moss to the tree. Spanish moss is an Epiphyte and part of the bromeliad family. It grows on other plants without using the host plant as nourishment.

Moss, however, can damage a tree. It gets very heavy when wet and can break a weak or dead limb. More importantly, especially where smaller bushes and decorative trees are concerned, the moss can get so thick that it blocks the sun and prevents photosynthesis, thus interrupting the growth and fostering the weakening of the tree, or bush. I have a confession to make. People have asked me if it was true that Henry Ford stuffed car seats with Spanish moss. I said no way! I thought it impossible to harvest that kind of volume. Not so! My Grandpa Hubbard had a farm over in Jasper County with just one bull named August. Magnificent animal if you could control him like Granddaddy could. Otherwise, stay on your side of the fence! Anyway that bull loved to eat Spanish moss. I would gather moss for him by using a long stick with a nail in it. Push it into the moss and start winding. Eventually you could pull down a batch. Very time consuming but a good peace offering for old August!

Now apply that material sourcing to the assembly lines of Ford Motor Company and all those seats. No way! Actually, the fact is, in one year there was 10,000 pounds of Spanish moss harvested from trees in Florida and Louisiana. Moss indeed was used to pack seats and furniture and all sorts of other uses in medicine, food and voodoo going back hundreds of years. The gray covering comes off with treatment. The fiber inside is processed to become very strong. The buds on the moss are edible. Not the moss itself. Except for August.

Spanish moss is not moss nor is it Spanish. Look it up. There are two stories about how it did come about though.

The Florida rendition is that there was a native princess that fell in love with a Spanish soldier. Her father, the Chief, (of course), forbade her to see her true love. The story is tragic. The Princess hangs herself in a tree when she realized that her father has had the Spanish soldier killed! Her hair stayed in the tree and continues to grow today.

Now we folks in Georgia know the real story. A bearded brute named Gorez Goz bought a beautiful Indian maiden. She couldn’t stand the sight of him so she took off. He chased her as she climbed a tree, a Georgia Live Oak I believe. She jumped into the water and escaped. He was tangled in the branches by his long beard. There he died and his beard continues to grow today, throughout Georgia.

Roy Hubbard, Richmond Hill

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