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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 The name is obsolete in modern science.[1]

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 of the animal kingdom. And by Charles Darwin in 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]

In popular culture[edit]

On an episode of The Bob Newhart Show, the lovable yet befuddled Howard uses the word "zoophyte" during a game of Scrabble for a triple-word score. Although he incorrectly defines the word as "a fight between two or more animals in a zoo," he spells it correctly and wins the game.

In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by 19th century science fiction author Jules Verne, the term is used many times when describing the sea-life seen by the passengers.


  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. JSTOR 532033. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1997.0003. 
  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'.'