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Tartar lamb illustration

A zoophyte is an animal that visually resembles a plant. An example is a sea anemone. The name is obsolete in modern science.[1]

Western history[edit]

Zoophytes are common in medieval and renaissance era herbals, notable examples including the Tartar Lamb, a plant which grew sheep as fruit.[2] Zoophytes appeared in many influential early medical texts, such as Dioscorides's De Materia Medica and subsequent adaptations and commentaries on that work, notably Mattioli's Discorsi. Zoophytes are frequently seen as medieval attempts to explain the origins of exotic, unknown plants with strange properties (such as cotton, in the case of the Tartar Lamb).[3]

Reports of zoophytes continued into the seventeenth century and were commented on by many influential thinkers of the time period, including Francis Bacon.[2] It was not until 1646 that claims of zoophytes began to be concretely refuted, and skepticism towards claims of zoophytes mounted throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[2] However, the term was still used by Georges Cuvier in his Le Règne Animal in 1817, as the title of one of his four divisions (Embranchements) of the animal kingdom (called Radiata in English translations), and by Charles Darwin in his book The Voyage of the Beagle in 1845.

Other cultures[edit]

In the Eastern cultures such as Ancient China fungi were classified as plants in the Traditional Chinese Medicine texts, and cordyceps, and in particular Ophiocordyceps sinensis were considered zoophytes.[4]


  1. ^ Kirkpatrick, E. M., ed. (1983). Chambers 20th Century Dictionary. Edinburgh: Chambers. p. 1524.
  2. ^ a b c Appleby, John H. (1997). "The Royal Society and the Tartar Lamb". Notes and Records of the Royal Society. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1997.0003. JSTOR 532033.
  3. ^ Large, Mark F.; John E. Braggins (2004). Tree Ferns. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. p. 360. ISBN 978-0-88192-630-9.
  4. ^ Halpern, Miller (2002). Medicinal Mushrooms. New York, New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc. pp. 64–65. ISBN 0-87131-981-0.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of zoophyte at Wiktionary