Lesson Plan

What is that Gray Hair-like Material in the Trees?

Learn about one of the most misunderstood plants in the Preserve.

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
30 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
4.RI.1, 4.RI.2, 4.RI.4, 5.RI.1, 5.RI.2, 5.RI.4, 6.RI.1, 6.RI.2, 6.RI.4
State Standards:
Louisiana Standards
LA.A.2.2.2, SS.D.1.2.2, SS.B.2.2.2
Additional Standards:
College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies Standards
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words.


Students will identify uses of Spanish moss from the time of the Timucua Indians to the present.


People living along the St. John's River have used Spanish Moss is many ways. Learn about the mysterious plant with this lesson, appropriate for grades 4-6.

When 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.


Print materials for students.


Download Student Reading

Download Student Worksheet 1

Download Student Worksheet 2


Step 1

Students will read about Spanish moss and its uses over time using the included reading material.

Step 2

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).

Step 3

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.


Spanish moss, Timucua, scales, Bromeliaceae, explorer,

Assessment Materials

Worksheet Answers

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  

Additional Resources

Website: www.stcharlesparish.com

University of Florida website: www.sirc.un.edu/extension

Website: www.birdsource.org

Texas Parks and Wildlife website: www.nsrt.nu.edu

Jerald T. Milanich, The Timucua, (Blackwell Publishers, 1999).

Contact Information

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Last updated: July 29, 2015