What is that Gray Hair-like Material in the Trees?
OverviewPeople living along the St. John's River have used Spanish Moss is many ways. Learn about the mysterious plant with this lesson.
Objective(s)Students will identify uses of Spanish moss from the time of the Timucua Indians to the present.
BackgroundWhen the French arrived in what we call America, they asked the same question of the Native Americans, and the natives replied that it was "tree hair," or "Itla-okla." The French used their own imaginations and called it Spanish Beard, because it reminded them of the long black beards of the earlier Spanish explorers. Over the years the name took on what some people thought to be a more sophisticated name, Spanish moss.
There are two worksheets and a reading sheet needed for this lesson.
Students will read about Spanish moss and its uses over time using the included reading material.
Have students answer questions (activity sheet 1) or look at pictures and then write a one line sentence about how Spanish moss could be used by or for the items shown (activity sheet 2).
When your class visits Kingsley Plantation, have your students look for Spanish moss in the trees. Be sure to mention that Spanish moss has tiny bugs that live on it called chiggers or red bugs that cause an uncomfortable itch if they get on your skin. Before Spanish moss can be used by humans it must be treated to remove the bugs. Indians and early settlers often boiled the moss or laid it on a rack over a smoky fire (making sure it didn't catch fire!) to kill or remove the bugs.
AssessmentAnswers to questions from:
Activity Sheet 1
1) "Itla-okla" and "tree hair"
2) French from France, Spanish from Spain
3) Spanish moss is an air-feeding plant.
4) Spanish moss does not harm the plant, in this example the Live Oak.
5) Moist, sunny
6) Carried by wind, carried by animals, carried by birds
7) Timucua women used the moss to make skirts or apron-like clothing; furniture upholstery; medicine
Activity Sheet 2
Timucuan woman - skirt of moss
Medicine - moss is being experimented with to treat diabetes
Bat (Seminole) - uses moss to roost in to keep the hot sun off
Nest - birds use moss for nesting material
Chair - fine furniture is often stuffed with moss
Cow - moss used for feed