Do you know what the term "tall sugar pines" references in the Louis Armstrong song "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans"? Those trees are not found in New Orleans. Or are they?
Sugar pines, the tallest pines in the world, have very long cones and are among of the most valuable softwoods. They typically thrive at elevations between 3,000 and 7,500 feet, and are found mostly in the mountain regions of the far Western United States — but not in Louisiana. In the Byou State we have loblolly pines, longleaf pines, shortleaf pines, slash pines and spruce pines — but no sugar pines.
Armstrong also sings the phrase "miss them moss-covered vines." Well, just about everybody in Louisiana knows that moss grows only on trees, not on vines, telephone poles or fences. Spanish moss (also called Florida moss) is not a true moss. It is an epiphytic plant, which grows on another plant, but does not rely on the host plant for nutrients. It most commonly adopts oak or cypress trees as hosts but may be found on other species.
It's pretty clear that the man who wrote the lyrics to one of our favorite songs wasn't worried about botanical accuracy. It's also possible that songwriter Eddie DeLange had never been to New Orleans. He was born on Long Island, N.Y. in 1904. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1926, he drove to Hollywood, where he spent five years acting in bit parts and as a stuntman in both silent and talking films.
In 1932 he returned to New York and began his career as a lyricist — and a very successful one at that. During the 1930s, DeLange had his own orchestra which performed in clubs and on the radio. It had many top hits. Along with Louis Alter, who wrote the music, DeLange penned one of the most popular songs about our city. It was written for the movie New Orleans in 1947 and was performed by Armstrong and Billie Holiday.
DeLange died in 1949 at age 45. He was later inducted into the National Academy of Popular Music's Songwriters Hall of Fame.