WSAV Investigates Savannah’s Squares Gathering No Spanish Moss

Absence of Spanish Moss fuels folklore that it's been cursed from growing in several city squares in Savannah

(SAVANNAH) Spanish moss dangles from trees throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcounty, but there are some myths and misconceptions about where and how it grows and what kind of plant it really is. Some even say it’s sensitive to the supernatural. Tour guides in Savannah share countless stories about it. In fact, the legend in Johnson Square is that it is cursed from growing there because American Revolutionary War Hero, Major General Nathanael Greene. It’s said Greene hated Spanish Moss because it reminded him of his grandfather’s beard. Greene’s remains lie beneath a monument in Johnson Square and the moss retreated when Greene was moved there at the dawn of the 20th century. When one takes a closer look at Johnson Square, it is virtually void of the familiar fuzzy veil so prevalent in this part of the country.

Spanish moss seems to provide a romantic curtain that drapes the canopy of the green spaces in Historic Savannah though it’s a familiar sight throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. Gordon Denny, Director of Savannah’s Park and Tree Department, says the moss makes for an awe inspiring backdrop in the Hostess City. ” It just adds to the overall ambiance of the historic district of this city.  It sways in the breeze, you know it’s, it’s hanging up from the trees, it’s go so many different tales around it.” said Denny.  The stories that are spun around the absence of Spanish Moss in the in downtown squares range from the curse of a distraught woman who committed suicide, cursing the moss with her final words before hanging herself from the branch of a live oak to the reported ghost of General Greene ripping it from the boughs at night. One tour guide, Sarah Dooley with Historic Savannah Carriage Tours, says many guides share the belief that the moss is sensitive to the supernatural. ” The theory that we tour guides kinda have is that the Spanish moss doesn’t grow where spirits still linger or bad things have happened.” Dooley said.

Folklore aside, a walk through Johnson Square reveals that the plant is almost impossible to find inside one of the oldest squares in the city. Denny says when he took a closer look as a result of this story, he found that Johnson Square is not alone when it comes to the absence of the moss. ” I was curious you know, I’ve always heard it was just this square..and you know, we decided to do a little walk through and I realized that pretty much none of the squares north of Broughton street have Spanish Moss and only one south of Broughton Street does.” Denny said. The missing moss isn’t due to something dark according to Denny. He says it spreads by riding the wind and the big buildings that line the south side of Bay Street block it from landing and taking hold in those squares a block south of Bay. He says science shows that it’s not a curse that’s keeping it out of some of the oldest squares in Savannah. ” For sure..um, if that were true then that means they probably cursed every square north of Broughton Street.” said Denny.

Spanish moss is misunderstood by many, but the name gets the blame, but Denny says it’s barely a moss, in fact it’s a cousin of something a lot more tropical. ” It maybe (more) closely related to a pineapple than an actual moss.” Denny said. While the moss makes for the most beautiful of beards from the boughs and branches, it can be home to some tiny bugs that can bite once it leaves the trees and lands on the ground. Denny says that’s when it can become home to chiggers. ” A good rule of thumb is if it’s on the ground, don’t play with it. It it’s in the tree it’s alright..a lot of times people believe that the bugs don’t actually occur until it falls to the ground and they start thriving in it.” said Denny. He adds that there is another myth surrounding the moss. It does not kill the trees where it grows. It takes nutrients from the air and the rain and does not act as a parasite, living off the trees where it grows.

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