Cryptobotany is the floral counterpart to cryptozoology; the search for "hidden" plants. Of course this doesn't appear to be a search for any old type of plant, but more a search for man eating plants! And when I say a search I mean repeating old stories from the comfort of one's armchair (a bit like I'm doing now). Botany is a much maligned science but personally I've always been respectful towards it. Not excited by it, zoology is my "thing", but respectful. Plants are not just living things, they are competitive, dangerous and all round inventive living things. So it's sad that the alternative science equivalent to it is so uninventive and unexciting. There's plenty of amazing plants out there, without needing to go looking for man eating ones!
Of course a lot of people, even those interested in cryptozoology, dismiss reports of undiscovered plants on the basis that "plants can't hide" like Bigfoot or Nessie. But I don't think those people have ever been outside and found just how difficult it is to get through vegetation and obviously new species of plant remain out there to be found (if you don't believe me check out the Wollemi Pine). This post though will focus on the more typical cryprobotanical ilk...
Let's not beat around the bush (oh yes people, a botany joke!!); there is very little information around about cryptid flora. But let's take a look anyway...
Man Eating Trees!!
Here's an account taken from the 1939 Chicago Field Museum of Natural History leaflet "Carnivorous Plants and 'The Man-Eating Tree'":
The "Snake- tree" is described in a newspaper para-
graph as found on an outlying spur of the Sierra Madre,
in Mexico. It has sensitive branches of a slimy, snaky
appearance, and when a bird alights on them incautiously,
it is seized, drawn down in the tree and lost to sight.
Soon after it falls, flattened out, to the ground, where
bones and feathers, no doubt of former captures cover
the earth. An adventurous traveler having touched one
of the branches of the tree tells how it closed up on his
hand with such force that it tore the skin when he wrenched
it away. He then fed the tree with chickens, and the tree
absorbed their blood by means of suckers with which its
branches were covered, very much like those of the octopus.
A recent report is credited to a Brazilian explorer named
Mariano da Silva who returned from an expedition which
led him into a district of Brazil that borders on Guiana.
He had there sought out the settlement of Yatapu Indians.
During his journey he saw a tree which nourishes itself
on animals. The trunk of the tree has a diameter of about
90 centimetres and is about six to seven meters high.
Around the lower part are found leaves which are 0.9 by
20 centimetres large and the thickness of the thumb.
The tree itself exudes a peculiar sharp odor which attracts
animals, especially monkeys. As soon as they climb the
trunk, all is up with them, for very quickly they are com-
pletely closed in by the leaves, and one neither hears nor
sees them again. After about three days the leaves open
and let drop to the earth the bones, completely stripped.
Also contained is the very detailed, very exciting and very debunked Madagascan Man-Eating Tree. Here's a Wiki summary:
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.
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.
There are also tales of a man eating tree called the "Ya-te-veo" ("I see you") that lives around the South Atlantic, but no recent witness statements mention it and it seems more a local legend than a fortean story.
And sadly this is the sort of thing that then seems to occur throughout reports of strange plants... hearsay, rumour but no "sightings". Death plants, flesh eating vines and over sized Venus Fly Traps are all mentioned in the same way you might mention any other urban legend.
Given your average person's disinterest in plant life (outside of their garden!) I think there are thousands of plants out there waiting to be studied. However I don't think the cryptobotanists will find them. At least cryptozoologists go on expeditions!! Alas, if there is a man eating plant out there it's likely to continue to go very hungry for a long time.
The Beasts That Hide From Man - Karl P.N. Shuker (UK Amazon, US Amazon) - This book has a section on cryptobotany but I can personally attest to it having a great selection of other topics on crptids. Dr Karl Shuker is awesome, if I do say so myself. Great writing style too, serious but not dull.
Flora Curiosa: Cryptobotany, Mysterious Fungi, Sentient Trees, and Deadly Plants in Classic Science Fiction and Fantasy - Chad Arment (Editor) (UK Amazon, US Amazon)
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