The Meanest Man That Ever Lived: The Origin of Spanish Moss

By Michael Maynor

There once was an old man who had lived such a sinful life that even the Devil got new ideas on being wicked by observing him. The old man cheated, lied, stole, and made everyone around him miserable. The Devil had enjoyed watching him for years, but his time on earth was over, and the Devil was going to collect his soul. 

One night while walking home after a day of exceptionally lousy behavior, the old man was nearing the crossroads and saw a figure standing in the middle dressed all in black. The old man feared nothing, but as he got closer, he could tell this man was not of the flesh. He called to the stranger, and when the stranger answered back, the old man laughed and said ,“Oh, it’s just you, Old Scratch.” The Devil did not care for this nickname but tipped his hat anyway ,and with a soft voice said, “At your service.” The old man asked Mr.Scratch what he wanted, and the Devil praised the old man for all his wicked living, but that he had come to collect his soul. The old man had no intention of going with the Devil so he thought for a moment and then told the Devil there were still a few schemes he had in the works and it would be a shame not to let him finish those. After explaining the details, the Devil being even more impressed, agreed to give him more time but assured him that one day he would return.

The old man asked the Devil for one favor seeing how they had so much in common. He  requested that when the Devil came for him the next time to please announce himself as he hated surprises. The Devil agreed, they shook hands, and the Devil vanished. As the old man stood alone on the road under the light of a full moon, he laughed to himself, because the truth was he was going deaf and blind, and he knew that by the time the Devil came again he would not be able to see or hear any announcement.

In the following years the old man continued his evil ways, but the day finally came when the Devil did return, but each time he announced his arrival, the old man ignored it because he could no longer hear and could barely see. The Devil could not get his attention and finally just gave up because a deal is a deal. The old man kept wandering all around the south living his rotten life and as he did he grew thinner and frailer, and in time was just a skeleton blindly wandering. The only thing that continued to grow on him was his hair, and as he walked the Southland, it became caught in the branches of the trees as if the Devil was still trying to grab him. Then one day the old man just vanished, but still today throughout much of the South, his long gray hair hangs in the trees. 

 What Is The Real Story Of Spanish Moss?

The reality of Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is less macabre ,but no less interesting. Spanish Moss is neither Spanish nor a  moss but a bromeliad – a perennial herb in the pineapple family. Most bromeliads are epiphytes. Epiphytic organisms grow on the surface of a plant, but get their nutrients from the air and whatever else lands on them. Spanish moss has scales that allow them to “catch” moisture and nutrients. It was named Spanish Moss because it reminded French explorers of the long beards of the Spanish conquistadors, the Spanish didn’t care for that, but the name stuck. Spanish Moss was once  used for many things including stuffing for automobile seats, insulation in buildings , and mattress filling, but today it’s mostly used as a mulch in gardening or decoration. 

I am a proud native of North Carolina with a deep love for the sporting lifestyle and everything Southern. My book collection seems to grow endlessly, and I have a particular fondness for collecting vintage duck decoys. Despite appearing content, my heart longs to return to Africa for another safari adventure. John 3:16