Sunday 15 January 2012

Flesh eating trees?

A German traveller in the 1880s called Karl Lache (Spelling may not be accurate as different versions spell his name Carle etc) wrote to the Polish Doctor, Omelius Fredlowski, describing a human sacrifice he had seen in Madagascar , in which a woman had been devoured by a tree. His letter said that the Mkodos of Madagascar lived in caves ,were small in stature and sacrificed their fellow tribes people to the tree.  The full text of his letter is reproduced in Searching for Hidden Animals by Roy P Mackal (1983 Cadogan Books London).Lache  called the tree “Crinoida”. He described it as a truncated cone with right hooked or horned leaves That hung to the ground like hinged doors.The tree had a receptacle which contained a clear sweet treacly liquid and from this hung tendrils. Lache said he had witnessed the Mkodos take a woman to the tree,where she drank the liquid and the tree surrounded her with its tendrils and ate her.Ten days later all that remained was her skull.
The account was published in newspapers and magazines along with lurid illustrations and was purportedly published in a scientific journal. I could find records of the other articles but not a scientific journal.
Chase Salmon Osborn of the USA travelled all over  Madagascar after reading these accounts to look for the tree. He published a book about his travels in 1924.He did not  find the tree but heard lots of folktales he said about it from both indigenous peoples and missionaries.
I feel that the man eating tree is more fantasy than fact .The strangest thing I find about it is that the tree contains(when you read the account) so many elements of  other carnivorous smaller plants which seems unlikely. You can understand it having two but not so many. Surely that would be evolution gone wild? Why would it need the receptacle element and tendrils and leaves? If the receptacle is on top of the tree  where creatures would fall in, why would it also need the leaves? We do have lots of smaller plants such as pitcher plants. Venus fly trap, sticky sundew that attract and digest insects and more recently a larger plant was discovered that could digest a rat, but a plant that could digest a human would have to be very large and surely would be seen by many people? Sadly I think this is one we confine to old Tarzan films ,more myth than reality.

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