Thursday, September 17, 2009

Man-eating tree

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:

"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 the 1924 book by former Governor of Michigan Chase Osborn, Madagascar, Land of the Man-eating Tree. Osborn claimed that both the tribes and missionaries on Madagascar knew about the hideous tree, and also repeated the above Liche account.
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, science author Willy Ley determined that the Mkodo tribe, Carle Liche, and the Madagascar man-eating tree itself all appeared to be fabrications.


The Ya-te-veo ("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 most likely an exaggerated story of an actual species of carnivorous plant, similar to those already known to science.


The Duñak is a carnivorous tree described in tribal tales from the Philippines and other areas of South-East Asia.[citation needed] It is said to resemble a monsoonal tree with very thick foliage and dark bark, occasionally said to have a reddish hue. It does not appear abnormal until a large animal walks under its branches, at which point barbed vines extend down from the tree to wrap themselves around the animal. The animal is then lifted up into the foliage, crushed to death, and consumed. It is said to have occasionally taken humans, but mostly does not prey on anything larger than deer and other ungulates native to the region. Some cryptophytologists believe the Duñak to actually be one of the larger members of Drosera, although would most probably not take prey larger than frogs and small mammals. Others believe the fanciful tales merely describe the hunting habits of one of the species of python native to the area.


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