A lot of what we’re told is simply not true. I thought Spanish Moss was only found in southern Mississippi until I visited coastal South Carolina. It was everywhere and especially vivid in beautiful Beaufort. Just after the lady behind the desk at the Coastal Discovery Museum (CDM) mentioned the 400-year-old live oak outside, she told me something I believed to be true but wasn’t. Spanish moss is not a parasite. Then she told me that it’s a relative of the pineapple. Really?
I did some research and found out that practical Native Americans called Spanish Moss tree hair, a much more accurate name. Spanish Moss, which is not moss, is found from Coastal Virginia down to Argentina! According to the Beaufort County Library, “Spanish Moss and the pineapple (Ananas comosus) belong to division Magnoliophyta , class Liliopsida, order Bromeliales, and to the plant family Bromeliacae,” which lost me at magnoliophyta. Actually an epiphyte, Spanish Moss is an independent plant that grows tiny, green flowers.
I learned a lot more about Lowcountry South Carolina from visiting Hilton Head’s Coastal Discovery Museum. For example, Hilton Head was not named for Conrad Hilton but for Captain William Hilton. William “discovered” it in 1663 while searching for places to grow sugar cane and sailing north from Barbados on the wonderfully named ship, The Adventurer.
Hilton Head was “discovered” again by affluent retirees about 1960 when the first golf course, Sea Pines Plantation, was built. Interest soared. Hilton Head’s population was 300 in 1950. Now it’s 37,000 and 2.5 million visitors, many looking for property, show up every year.
However, between 1663 and 1960 a lot was happening. Hilton Head Island’s plantation era lasted from 1700 until the Civil War when 13,000 Union troops swarmed it after the Battle of Port Royal. The Coastal Discovery Museum is on Honey Horn land. Honey Horn was one of 20 big plantations growing indigo and then cotton on this shoe-shaped Island between 1730 and 1860. The Coastal Discovery Museum is in a Honey Horn house built in 1859. Renovations, like indoor plumbing in the 1920s, occurred over time. The last family to live there was the lucky Hacks. They moved in in 1950. In 1998 they sold their property to the Town of Hilton Head for $9.75 million.
Today the Coastal Discovery Museum is a much-loved, very varied, community asset. Every time I mentioned it to a local woman, her eyes lit up and she told me how wonderful it was. One rhapsodized about her kayak experiences. Every week CDM offers a variety of tours (gardens, natural sites, etc.), walks (mud flats, beaches, etc.) and cruises (shrimp trawling, Pinckney Island waterways, etc.). The museum in the great old plantation house is for serious readers who have interests in Diamondback Terrapins, Gullah culture, alligators, etc.