Sunday, March 27, 2016

Carnivorous Plants

The Ya-Te-Veo, or Carnivorous Plant

The April 28, 1878, edition of The New York World carried a story with the subtitle “The Man-eating tree of Madagascar.”  This was back in the good ol' days when news agencies didn't have any particular reverence for such esoteric concepts as “truth” or “ethics.”  Although the story is fabricated, it still has a few points of interest.  For one, it mentions a theory that “the germs of life not only may have been, but may still be brought to this earth from some other point in space, by means of aerolites, meteoric dust, or some kindred agency.”  More to the purpose of this post, it discusses a strange form of plant life – Crinoida dajeeana – and the Mkodo tribe that worships “the great tree devil.”

In terms of physical description:
          If you can imagine a pineapple eight feet high and thick in proportion resting upon its base and denuded of leaves, you will have a good idea of the tree...  From the apex of the truncated cone (at least two feet across) eight leaves hung sheer to the ground, like doors swung back on their hinges.  These leaves, which were joined to the top of the tree at regular intervals were about eleven to twelve feet long...  They were two feet through their thickest part and three feet wide, tapering to a point...
          The apex of the cone was a white, round, concave figure...  This was not a flower, but a receptacle, and there exuded into it a thin, treacly liquid, honey-sweet and possessed of violent intoxicating and soporific properties.
The story also relates how the Mkodos forced one of their number to the top of the tree where she drank the fluid.  Thereupon...
          The slender, delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered over her head, then, as if instinct with demoniac intelligence, fastened upon her with sudden coils round and round her neck; then...the tendrils, one after another, like great green serpents, with brutal energy and infernal rapidity rose...and wrapped her about in fold after fold, ever tightening, with the cruel swiftness and savage tenacity of anacondas...  And now the great leaves rose slowly and swiftly like the arms of a derrick...and closed about the...victim with the silent force of a hydraulic press and the ruthless purpose of a thumb-screw...  A moment more...from their interstices trickled down the stalk of the tree great streams of viscid, honey-like liquid, mingled horribly with the blood and oozing viscera of the victim.  At the sight of this the savage hordes...yelling madly, bounded forward, crowded to the tree, clasped it, and with cups, leaves, hands, and tongues, got each one enough of the liquor to send him mad and frantic.  Then ensued a grotesque and indescribably hideous orgie...
Of course, because it was published in a newspaper, some people considered it to be a factual account.  I guess we could call this an example of Edgar Allen Poe's Law.

In 1887, Buel's Sea and Land discusses the Yateveo plant (depicted above).  Supposedly, “when excited it violently agitates its long, tentacle-like stems, the edges of which, rasping upon each other, produce a hissing noise...”  Also, the 'stems' are so poisonous “that if the flesh of any animal be punctured by the sharp barbs, a rapidly-eating ulcer immediately forms, for which there is no known antidote, and death speedily ensues.”  Although he devotes a full page to its picture, Buel doubts – but does not completely discredit – the existence of the Yateveo.  I find it interesting that Buel was compelled to mention that – even at the late date of 1887 – some people doubted the reality of the gorilla.  Buel states, “I do not say that the gorilla is a myth, but until stronger evidences of its existence are produced we may expect that there will be doubts of its existence.”  At a point in time when the existence of gorillas could be doubted, I suppose that entertaining the possibility of a tentacle tree was not completely irrational.

If nature has deprived us of man-eating plants, at least we can rely upon fiction to supply us with such entities.  Dragon #53 (September, 1981) contains a article that describes John Wyndham's triffids in D&D terms.  Evidently, Doubleday, publisher of The Day of the Triffids, granted permission for this.  The person responsible for the article is Mark Nuiver, whose known contributions to role-playing games are limited to a few creature write-ups in Dragon.  Here is an edited presentation of the D&D triffid:


  1. Some more vile plants and magical gardens appear in Rob Kuntz's _Garden of the Plantmaster_ (Creations Unlimited 1987, Kenzer & Company 2003).


  2. I finally got around to reading Brian Aldiss' 'Hothouse', one of the inspirational reading suggestions for 'Gamma World'. The book is chock-full of bizarre carnivorous plants, and the humans are pretty low on the food chain.