Hurricanes, Live Oaks and Spanish Moss
Beaufort has been spared most hurricanes. The biggest hurricane was in 1893. In an interview with Clara Barton (Director of the Red Cross at the time) she said "On the 28th of August, 1893, a hurricane and tidal wave from the direction of the West Indes swept the coast of South Carolina, covering its entire range of Port Royal Islands, sixteen feet below the sea.
In 1959, Hurricane Gracie's "Drenching rains" and 145 m.p.h. winds caused 4 local deaths, damaged 2,394 area homes and wrought $4 million (about $24,000,000 in 2003 value) in property losses. The storm sent 12 shrimp boats "to the bottom," and on Oct. 8 farmer Rudolph Bishop reported nearly $20,000 (about $120,000 today) in crop damage
More recently Hugo in 1989 was only a Cat 1 and Floyd in 1999 went to NC. The lack of hurricanes has allowed the live oaks in the area to grow unmolested. These oaks grow 40 to 80 feet tall and 60 to 100 feet wide. In open landscapes the sprawling horizontal branches arch to the ground and form a broad, rounded canopy (photo 2)
The Spanish moss is more closely related to the pineapple than to moss. They release airbourne seeds which lodge in the cracks of rough-barked live oaks, and fasten temporary roots to keep it in place. It will grow only on trees. Spanish moss normally does no damage to a tree unless its weight becomes excessive.
Native Americans called the plant "tree hair". The French explorers termed it "Barbe espagnole" -- "Spanish Beard" -- to insult their bitter rivals. The Spanish retorted with "Cabello francés" ("French hair").
"Spanish Moss", a milder variation of the French taunt, has survived. Another common name is "Graybeard".
I have a photo of my dad posing with a 'beard' of Spanish moss.
Many animals are at home with the romantic looking Spanish moss - chiggers, rat snakes and three species of bats, plus a species of spider that lives only in Spanish Moss. Birds -- like the prothonotary warblers and chickadees -- also use Spanish Moss to build or conceal their nests, and the parula warbler makes its nest in the actual hanging clumps of the moss. Yellow-throated warblers make nests of Spanish moss and pine needles, both abundant materials in the Sea Islands. Squirrels, owls, egrets and mockingbirds also use Spanish Moss for nest bedding.
Early settlers used the Spanish moss as fodder, kindling, and as caulking.