Student Activities

What is Spanish Moss?

Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Science

People living along the St. John's River have used Spanish Moss is many ways. Students will identify uses of Spanish moss from the time of the Timucua Indians to the present.


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. 

If 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.


Answers 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  





Download Spanish Moss Background Reading

Download Spanish Moss Student Worksheet 1

Download Spanish Moss Student Worksheet 2

Last updated: August 27, 2015