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Gossypium herbaceum, also called Levant cotton, is a species of cotton native to the semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Arabia where it still grows in the wild as a perennial shrub. It was first cultivated in Western Sudan from there it spread to India, before being introduced to Egypt. It reached China in the 700 AD and was first cultivated from this period.
A legend was perpetuated from a factual description of this plant by Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC. Although his book, simply titled Histories, was an account of a war between the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states. It also contained descriptions of vast lands beyond the boundaries of the world known by the Greeks at that time. He wrote: "certain trees...bear forth their fruit fleeces surpassing those of sheep in beauty and excellence, and the natives clothe themselves in cloths made therefrom."
From this description came the legend of the "vegetable lamb plant" which was said to be a real sheep. The tree would grow from a melon-like seed and grow into a lamb rooted to the earth by a stem from its navel. It was said to graze on the surrounding vegetation until the all greenery around it was devoured at which point it would wither and die. A 14th-century traveler by the name of Sir John Mandeville, professed to eating the flesh of this herbal beast. Although scientist tried to debunk this tale it was not officially labeled as a fable until 1887.[clarification needed]
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