SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Spanish moss is not Spanish, but it was almost French—and these are just a few of the secrets the moss, that’s not even really a moss, has been hiding in the swamps of Louisiana.

It’s almost impossible to think of the bayou state without having at least one vision of Spanish moss hanging from the outstretched, arthritic limbs of an aged live oak or cypress tree. But have you ever stopped to wonder how Spanish Moss got that name?

Photo: Frozen Spanish Moss on Lake Fausses Pointe, Louisiana, by Elizabeth Bourgeois

Louisiana folklore insists French explorers saw a long, spindly plant hanging from trees and thought it looked like the beards and wigs of their enemies, the Spanish explorers. So to use a crime reporting term, they allegedly named the long, spindly plant after the Spanish explorers’ long, spindly wigs and beards.

Native Americans told French explorers the plant was called Itla-Okla, which means tree hair.

It is said that the Spanish explorers eventually started referring to the plant as French beards to make fun of the French for calling the plant Spanish Beards, and eventually the inevitable happened. The name Spanish Moss stuck.

Spanish Moss and pineapples are related. The whipped cream and cherry, not so much. (Image: KTAL NBC 6 News)

Here’s another weird thing about the moss that isn’t Spanish or a moss. It’s a distant relative of the pineapple.

Spanish Moss is just as happy in the Carolinas as in Columbia, as native in Argentina as in Atlanta. Yes, that’s right. The bromeliad is an air plant, not a moss, that takes moisture and nutrients from the air as it clings to tree limbs and is native to the southern United States, Central America, and South America.

Spanish Moss makes a great houseplant, too. Just be very careful when gathering Spanish Moss from outdoors because it is known to attract chiggers. And on a scale of one to ten, chiggers are an 11 on the annoyance scale.

And in case you were wondering, the answer is no. Spanish Moss does not kill trees.