Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beware of Man-Eater Plants


My wife and I were watching a TV talk show recently, when the subject of flesh-eating plants was brought up. They mentioned the Venus Flytrap...even Audrey II from 'Little Shop of Horrors.' I told my wife that I believed there were some plants known to eat flesh...I was sure I had posted something about this many years ago. Anyway, this is what I found:

In 1881 German explorer Carl Liche told the tale of a horrid tree that would feast upon the Mdoko tribe of Madagascar. In a terrible ceremony, He watched as the tribes people would sacrificed one of their own to a man-eating tree. Prodded by javelins a young girl was forced to climb the giant plant which resembled an giant pineapple. The top was fringed with long hairy green tendrils and a set of tentacles surrounding a pool of honey-sweet fluid. As she reluctantly drank from the pool, in Liche's words:

“...slender delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered a moment over her head, then as if instinct with demoniac intelligence fastened upon her in sudden coils round and round her neck and arms; then while her awful screams and yet more awful laughter rose wildly to be instantly strangled down again into a gurgling moan, the tendrils one after another, like great green serpents, with brutal energy and infernal rapidity, rose, retracted themselves, and wrapped her about in fold after fold, ever tightening with cruel swiftness and savage tenacity of anacondas fastening upon their prey.”


In the book Madagascar: Land of the Man-Eating Tree author Chase Osborn claimed that both the tribes and missionaries on Madagascar knew about the hideous tree, and also repeated the Liche account. Some researchers claim that Liche's recitation was completely fabricated. In fact, Willy Ley, the author of Salamanders and Other Wonders: Still More Adventures of a Romantic Naturalist stated that there was no killer tree that grew in Madagascar, no Mkodo tribe, and apparently Carl Liche himself never really existed.

In the book Under The Punkah Phil Robinson recalls the tales of his uncle, who traveled throughout the world. He described a "man-eating tree" that was to be found in the northern Sudan along the Nile Valley. In the account, Robinson's uncle describes the tree:

This awful plant, that rears its splendid death-shade in the central solitude of a Nubian fern forest, sickens by its unwholesome humours all vegetation from its immediate vicinity, and feeds upon the wild beasts that, in the terror of the chase, or the heat of noon, seek the thick shelter of its boughs ; upon the birds that, flitting across the open space, come within the charmed circle of its power, or innocently refresh themselves from the cups of its great waxen flowers ; upon even man himself when, an infrequent prey, the savage seeks its asylum in the storm, or turns from the harsh foot-wounding sword-grass of the glade, to pluck the wondrous fruit that hang plumb down among the wondrous foliage. And such fruit ! Glorious golden ovals, great honey drops, swelling by their own weight into pear-shaped translucencies. The foliage glistens with a strange dew, that all day long drips on to the ground below, nurturing a rank growth of grasses, which shoot up in places so high that their spikes of fierce blood-fed green show far up among the deep-tinted foliage of the terrible tree, and, like a jealous body-guard, keep concealed the fearful secret of the charnel-house within, and draw round the black roots of the murderous plant a decent screen of living green.


J.W. Buel wrote in Sea and Land that the Ya-te-veo ("I-see-you") plant is native to Africa and Central America, and having stems that resemble "many huge serpents in an angry discussion, occasionally darting from side to side as if striking at an imaginary foe," while attempting to consume humans. It is further described as having a short, thick trunk topped with spine-like shoots with dagger-like thorns along their edges. These barbed shoots hang down to the ground and become suddenly animated when an unsuspecting animal walks between them. The victim is then impaled and crushed against the trunk until it is drained of blood which is then absorbed by the plant.


This description is similar to the 'Devil's Snare' or 'Vampire Vine' which is said to live in the dark recesses of the Nicaraguan jungle. In a short story in Lucifer Magazine, the following was quoted:

Mr. Dunstan, naturalist, who has recently returned from Central America, where he spent nearly two years in the study of the flora and the fauna of the country, relates the finding of a singular growth in one of the swamps which surround the great lakes of Nicaragua. He was engaged in hunting for botanical and entomological specimens, when he heard his dog cry out, as if in agony, from a distance, Running to the spot whence the animal's cries came. Mr. Dunstan found him enveloped in a perfect network of what seemed to be a fine rope-like tissue of roots and fibres... The native servants who accompanied Mr. Dunstan manifested the greatest horror of the vine, which they call "the devil's snare," and were full of stories of its death-dealing powers. He was able to discover very little about the nature of the plant, owing to the difficulty of handling it, for its grasp can only be torn away with the loss of skin and even of flesh; but, as near as Mr. Dunstan could ascertain, its power cf suction is contained in a number of infinitesimal mouths or little suckers, which, ordinarily closed, open for the reception of food. If the substance is animal, the blood is drawn off and the carcass or refuse then dropped.

Now...the big question. Are any of these plants real? There are certainly plants in the world that eat meat. Charles Darwin was fascinated by them and spent fifteen years of his life studying them...ex. the Corpse Flower, Venus Flytrap, and other various 'pitcher' plants that consume small mammals and insects that fall into their clutches. As far as man-eating plants that grab and ingest humans or large animals...maybe we should just save it for the horror movies. Lon




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