Native & American: Spanish Moss, ‘The Swampy Cousin Of The Pineapple’

Spanish Moss

Image Credit: The Atchafalaya Experience & Southern Inspiration by Nature

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Louisiana, to some, can be seen as strange and beautiful. Last year, while Texas was experiencing a “snow-pocalypse”, in Louisiana we witnessed icicles hanging from Cypress trees in the swamps and sheets of ice dangling in the Spanish Moss. The cold, icy winter of 2020 was indeed, for Louisiana natives and locals alike, both strange and beautiful.

But there is one flora that makes the bayou state a strange and beautiful place year-round: it’s that of the Spanish Moss.

History of Spanish Moss

Absinthe House
Image Credit: Explore Beaufort SC

Spanish Moss has a mystical context, as the very first voodoo dolls fashioned in Louisiana were stuffed with it. During the U.S. Civil War, it was thought to harbor and spread malaria. Spanish Moss, which is neither Spanish nor moss, was also used as a medicinal remedy for chills and fevers in the form of a tea or as a stuffing for shoes.

Down in Louisiana, we welcomed into our homes the gray dollops that hung from oak and cypress tree. Spanish Moss in the average home, prior to the rise of cotton, was mainly used for bedding in homes, rudimentary Brillo Pads for housecleaning and even rope. Native Americans would utilize it to make fire arrows and create a binding ingredient for clay pottery and plaster.

One major misconception would be the uninformed assumption that Spanish Moss kills trees by smothering them while acting like a parasite. The cousin of the pineapple does act as a parasite to the tree, but only to draw and consume moisture and nutrients from the air. The only time the swampy flora might harm or damage a tree is when it grows to a weighty abundance and breaks an occasional twig or branch.

Origins of Spanish Moss in Louisiana Folklore

spanish moss Cajun Encounters
Image Credit: Louisiana Digital Library

The legend of how Spanish Moss came to be and cover the Southeastern portion of the United States is an interesting one. It is attributed to the Native Americans, who believe that Spanish Moss originated from a creature that early French settlers and Cajuns, much later, dubbed “Le Pere Des Mille Feuilles(pronounced ‘LAY-PEAR-DAY-MILL-FWEE-YAY’ phonetically), or “The Father Of A Thousand Leaves”.

This Choctaw deity is said to have walked the earth and would travel by way of hollow trees throughout the swamps. The Father Of A Thousand Leaves is believed to have birthed a child, a baby girl, who would become known as Princess Abita. The indigenous people of the region tell of a tragedy occurring in “Bulbancha”, which was the tribal term for New Orleans meaning “place of many tongues.”

Spanish Moss, they say, came to be and originated in the swamps of Bulbancha with the death of the Native American healer, Princess Abita. She was to be wed in the swamps outside of the city, beyond the ramparts of the former Nouvelle Orleans, to Captain Henriquez of the Spanish Guard of Nueva Orleans, as the Spanish began to settle in New Orleans around 1764. On her wedding night, in the candle and campfire light, the bride-to-be was savaged by a jealous lover before the marriage ceremony could be completed.

Mourning the loss of his almost-wife, Captain Henriquez gathered Princess Abita’s dead body and proceeded to bury her under the base of a mighty Live Oak. The tribal faithful to Princess Abita urged Captain Henriquez to erect scaffolding in the branches of the tree and let her body rest closer to The Great Spirit in the sky. He, a good Catholic, was intent upon returning her to the Earth and only agreed to put a portion of her remains in the tree branches. Henriquez cut locks and braids of her raven-black hair and tossed them into the branches of the tree where they were to be married, and thus she was buried.

It was said that from time to time, Captain Henriquez would visit the swampy grounds and the tree, forever seeing her black strands of hair still dangling in the branches. As years passed, he continued his visitations, only to take note one day that her hairs had gone grey as if she were still alive and aging, now older with grey hair.

Spanish Moss Tree

It was the Cajun people, who found themselves living amongst the Native Americans, that came to know the story of Le Pere Des Mille Feuilles, or The Father Of a Thousand Leaves. It was said that the Native American god mourned the loss of his daughter, Princess Abita, so much that he caused her remains to stay alive in the trees (as she was born of a tree). The Father Of A Thousand Leaves insisted that all the trees in the land mourn the loss of his daughter, as the wind carried her gray hairs from as far west as East Texas and as far east as South Carolina.

It is believed that Spanish Moss got the “Spanish” portion of its name from the Spaniard, Captain Henriquez, who planted Princess Abita’s lockets of hair. Another possible explanation is that Spanish Moss was first discovered or came to be during the time of Spanish rule and occupation of New Orleans from 1762-1803.

See It For Yourself

spanish moss Cajun Encounters

Get a first-hand look at the giant cypress trees sporting Spanish Moss in the Louisiana swamps with Cajun Encounters. Guests can travel down the Honey Island Swamp, experiencing the beauty of one of the most untarnished ecosystems in America first-hand. If that is not enough, there are plenty of educational opportunities to learn about the plants and animals that inhabit it.

Cajun Encounters is always open and ready for those who wish to experience a little adventure outside of daily norms. Guests are guaranteed the best educational experience possible with trained experts as their guides. Cajun Encounters is working hard to ensure not only the satisfaction but also the safety of its visitors by implementing proper COVID-19 protocol. 

Book your tour today at  https://www.cajunencounters.com or calling 504.834.1770 before all the spots are all filled up. You do not want to miss this family-friendly, educational experience.

Book a tour with Cajun Encounters today by visiting www.cajunencounters.com or calling 504.834.1770 or begin your walkthrough New Orleans by visiting neworleanslegendarywalkingtours.com or calling 504.503.0199

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