Spanish moss is neither Spanish nor, technically, moss. It belongs to the angiosperm family and, according to one legend, got its name from a tale about an 18th-century couple — a man and his Spanish fiancé — who, searching for a place to build a plantation near Charleston, South Carolina, were attacked by Cherokees. After killing the couple, the Cherokees cut off the Spanish woman’s long, black tresses and tossed them onto the branch of a live oak, where they turned gray and spread across the Southeast. Over time, Spanish moss became a fixture of the Southern Gothic, and even now crops up in movies set in the South made mostly by outsiders who portray the region with easy stereotypes and overwrought accents.

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