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Depiction of a man being consumed by a Yateveo ("I see you") carnivorous tree found in both Africa and Central America, from Sea and Land by J. W. Buel, 1887
|Region||Africa and Central America|
|Habitat||African and Central-American forests|
The Madagascar tree
The earliest well-known report of a man-eating tree originated as a literary fabrication written by Edmund Spencer for the New York World. Spencer's article first appeared in the daily edition of the New York World on 26 April 1874, and appeared again in the weekly edition of the newspaper two days later. In the article, a letter was published by a purported German explorer named "Karl Liche" (also spelled as Carl Liche in later accounts), who provided a report of encountering a sacrifice performed by the "Mkodo tribe" of Madagascar: This story was picked up by many other newspapers of the day, which included the South Australian Register of 27 October 1874, where it gained even greater notoriety. Describing the tree, the account related:
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.
The tree was given further publicity by Madagascar: Land of the Man-eating Tree, a book by Chase Osborn, who had been a Governor of Michigan. Osborn claimed that both the tribes and missionaries on Madagascar knew about the hideous tree, repeated the above Liche account, and acknowledged "I do not know whether this tigerish tree really exists or whether the bloodcurdling stories about it are pure myth. It is enough for my purpose if its story focuses your interest upon one of the least known spots of the world."
In his 1955 book, Salamanders and other Wonders, science author Willy Ley determined that the Mkodo tribe, Carl Liche, and the Madagascar man-eating tree all appeared to be fabrications: "The facts are pretty clear by now. Of course the man eating tree does not exist. There is no such tribe."
In J. W. Buel's Sea and Land (1887), the Yateveo plant is described as being native to Africa and Central America, so named for producing a hissing sound similar to the Spanish phrase "ya-te-veo" (lit. "I-see-you"), and having poisonous "spines" that resemble "many huge serpents in an angry discussion, occasionally darting from side to side as if striking at an imaginary foe" which seize and pierce any creature coming within reach.
The vampire vine
William Thomas Stead, editor of Review of Reviews, published a brief article in October 1891 that discussed a story found Lucifer magazine, describing a plant in Nicaragua called by the natives the devil's snare. This plant had the capability "to drain the blood of any living thing which comes within its death-dealing touch." According to the article:
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 fibers... 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 of 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.
An investigation of Stead's review determined no such article was published in the October issue of Lucifer, and concluded that the story in Review of Reviews appeared to be a fabrication by the editor. The story in fact appeared in the September issue, proceeded by a longer version in an 1889 newspaper describing Dunston as a "well-known naturalist" from New Orleans.
Literature and film
- "The Man-eating Tree" (1881) by Phil Robinson (included in his book Under the Punkah) describes a "man-eating tree" found in Nubia.
- "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid" (1894) by H. G. Wells (originally published in Pall Mall Budget, August 2nd and 9th, 1894), about an orchid capable of sedating and draining the blood of a human.
- "The Purple Terror" (1899) by Fred M. White features parasitic vines with purple blossoms known as the "devil's poppy" that seize and poison animals.
- "Spanish Revenge" (1906) features a "Yateveo" in Mexico, resembling a large cactus with many long thorny arms, which attacks a Texan traveler.
- The film Maneater of Hydra (1967) features a mad scientist (Cameron Mitchell) who develops hybrid carnivorous and vampiric plants.
- In Conan the Buccaneer (1971), a black Amazon tribe uses a grove of man-eating trees called "kulamtu" as a particularly cruel method of execution.
- "The Sagebrush Kid" (2008) by Annie Proulx (a short story in Fine Just the Way It Is) features a sagebrush which grows to consume animals and humans after being "raised" and fed by a childless Wyoming couple.
- Spencer, Edmund (August 1888). Somers, Frederick Maxwell, ed. "Wonderful Stories: The Man-eating Tree". Current Literature. Vol. 1 no. 2. p. 109,154-155.
- Spencer, Edmund (April 26–28, 1874). "Crinoida Dajeeana, The Man-eating Tree of Madagascar" (PDF). New York World. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Ron Sullivan and Joe Eaton (October 27, 2007). "The Dirt: Myths about man-eating plants - something to chew on". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-10-26.
- Spencer, Edmund (October 27, 1874). "Man-eating Tree of Madagascar". South Australian Register. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
- Pollak, Michael (2014-08-15). "Answering a Question About a Tale of Human Sacrifice to a Tree". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
- Tyson, Peter. "A Forest Full of Frights, part 2". The Wilds of Madagascar. Nova Online.
- Osborn, Chase Salmon (1924). Madagascar: Land of the Man-eating Tree. New York, N.Y.: Republic Publishing Company. pp. 3–9.
- Ley, Willy (1955). Salmanders and Other Wonders: Still More Adventures of a Romantic Naturalist. Viking Press. pp. 178–182.
- Richard Astro (1976). Literature and the Sea: Proceedings of a Conference Held at the Marine Science Center, Newport, Oregon, May 8, 1976. Oregon State University, Sea Grant College Program.
- Buel, James William (1887). Sea and Land: An Illustrated History of the Wonderful and Curious Things of Nature existing before and since the Deluge. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Historical Publishing Company. pp. 475–477.
- Stead, William, ed. (October 1891). "The Vampire Vine". Review of Reviews. London: Mobray House. IV (22): 391. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- "A Cannibal Plant". The Western Druggist. Chicago: G.P. Englehard & Co. XIV (3): 93. March 1892. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
- Besant, Annie, ed. (15 September 1891). "A Curious Story". Lucifer. Vol. 9 no. 49. London, England. p. 20.
- Special Telegram (9 December 1889). "A Blood-Sucking Plant". The Times (5196). Philadelphia, PA. p. 2 – via Newspapers.com.
- Robinson, Phil (1881). "The Man-eating Tree". Under the Punkah (3 ed.). London, England: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. pp. 1–13.
- Wells, H. G. (1904) . The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents. New York, N.Y.: MacMillan and Co. pp. 17–35 – via Internet Archive.
- White, Fred M. (September 1899). "The Purple Terror". The Strand Magazine. Vol. 18 no. 105. pp. 243–251 – via Internet Archive.
- Staff writer (1 September 1906). "Spanish Revenge". Kansas City Gazette. 48 (8). Kansas City, Kansas: Gazette Printing and Publishing. p. 7.
- Conan the Buccaneer, Chapter 16 The Devouring Tree.
- Maunder, Patricia (21 January 2009). "Fine Just the Way It Is: Annie Proulx (review)". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- Ron Carlson (7 September 2008). "True Grit". New York Times. Retrieved 18 March 2010.