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Man-eating tree can refer to any of various legendary carnivorous plants that are large enough to kill and consume a person or other large animal. No such plant is known to exist, though a variety of unconfirmed reports have been recorded.[1] In actuality, the carnivorous plant with the largest known traps is probably Nepenthes rajah, which produces pitchers up to 35 cm (14 in) in height and will sometimes consume small mammals.[2]

Contents

The Madagascar tree

The earliest well known report of a man-eating tree originated as a hoax. In 1881 German explorer "Carl Liche" wrote an account in the South Australian Register of encountering a sacrifice performed by the "Mkodo" tribe of Madagascar:[3]

"The 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."[4]

The tree was given further publicity by the 1924 book by former Governor of Michigan Chase Osborn, Madagascar, Land of the Man-eating Tree.[5] Osborn claimed that both the tribes and missionaries on Madagascar knew about the hideous tree, and also repeated the above Liche account. Also in the popular fiction series "Harry Potter" a tree called the womping willow,which devours birds (and occasionally people) is a modern depiction of the Ya-te-veo.

Depiction of a native being consumed by a Ya-te-veo ("I see you") carnivorous tree of Central America, from Land and Sea by J.W. Buel, 1887.

In his 1955 book, Salamanders and other Wonders,[6] science author Willy Ley determined that the Mkodo tribe, Carl Liche, and the Madagascar man-eating tree itself all appeared to be fabrications.

Ya-te-veo

The Ya-te-veo ("Now-I-see-you") is a carnivorous plant said to grow in parts of Central and South America with cousins in Africa and on the shores of the Indian Ocean. There are many different descriptions of the plant, but most reports say it has a short, thick trunk and long tendrils of some sort which are used to catch prey. In J.W. Buel's Land and Sea (1887), the plant is said to catch and consume large insects, but also attempts to consume humans. As with most reports of man-eating trees, the Ya-te-veo is possibly an exaggerated story of an actual species of carnivorous plant, similar to those already known to science.

In fiction

Man-eating plants have figured in a number of science fiction stories and films.

  • In Lucian of Samosata's True History written in the 2nd century AD, a group of female grape-vines consume sailors who mate with them.
  • Stanley G. Weinbaum's 1935 short story, "Parasite Planet", describes a variety of carnivorous plants on Venus that eat humans and each other.
  • The January 12, 1957 episode of Science Fiction Theatre, "The Killer Tree".[7]
  • A central character in The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), its stage musical spinoff, and the musical film, is Audrey Jr. ("Audrey II" in the 1986 remake), a talking plant that feeds off human blood and flesh.
  • In the 1998 book Beyond the Deepwoods, part of Chris Riddle and Paul Stewarts' The Edge Chronicles, there are huge carnivorous trees known as blood-oaks which catch their prey with the help of tarry vines.
  • Yann Martel's 2001 novel, Life of Pi, featured a floating island of carnivorous algae that presumably digested a human castaway, leaving only the deceased's teeth wrapped individually in its leaves.
  • In The Sagebrush Kid, a short story in Annie Proulx's 2008 Fine Just the Way It Is, a childless Wyoming couple transfer their affections first a piglet, then a chicken, and finally a sagebrush they fancy to have the appearance of a child.[8] It is tended and protected, and even fed bones and stray scraps of meat and bones from their dinner-table. Even after the couples' passing, the shrub - now grown to the height of a fair-sized tree - is used to human attention, and meat. It consumes livestock, then soldiers, then a local medico, railroad men, surveyors, and most lately a botanist come to investigate its unusual height and luxuriance.[9]

See also

References

  1. ^ Shuker, Karl (2003). The Beasts That Hide From Man. Paraview. ISBN 1-931044-64-3. 
  2. ^ Phillipps, A. 1988. A Second Record of Rats as Prey in Nepenthes rajah. Carnivorous Plant Newsletter 17(2): 55.
  3. ^ Ron Sullivan and Joe Eaton (October 27, 2007). "The Dirt: Myths about man-eating plants - something to chew on". San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/27/HOIASVF6T.DTL. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  4. ^ Tyson, Peter. "A Forest Full of Frights, part 2". The Wilds of Madagascar. Nova Online. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/madagascar/surviving/frights2.html. 
  5. ^ Osborn, Chase Salmon (1925). Madagascar, Land of the Man-eating Tree. 
  6. ^ Ley, Willy (1955). Salamanders and other Wonders. Viking Press. 
  7. ^ "Science Fiction Theatre; "Killer Tree" Episode Summary". TV.com. http://www.tv.com/science-fiction-theatre/killer-tree/episode/126835/summary.html. 
  8. ^ Maunder, Patricia (21 January 2009). "Fine Just the Way It Is: Annie Proulx (review)" (in English). Australian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/bookshow/stories/2009/2452573.htm#TRANSCRIPT. Retrieved 18 March 2010. 
  9. ^ Ron Carlson (7 September 2008). "True Grit" (in English). New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/books/review/Carlson-t.html. Retrieved 18 March 2010. 
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Other sources

  • Michell, John and Rickard, Bob (2000). The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena. Rough Guides. ISBN 1-85828-589-5. 

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