Definitions

man eating

Man-eating tree

Man-eating tree can refer to any of various legendary carnivorous plants that are large enough to kill and consume a person or other large animal. No such plant is known to exist, though a variety of unconfirmed reports have been recorded. Presently, the carnivorous plant with the largest known traps is probably Nepenthes rajah, which produces pitchers up to 35 cm (14 inches) in height and will sometimes consume small mammals.

The Madagascar tree

The earliest well known 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.

Similar tales have reported such trees in Central America, South America, Mexico and elsewhere.

In fiction

Man-eating plants have figured in a number of science fiction stories and films. A central character in The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), its stage musical spinoff, and the musical film, is Audrey Jr. ("Audrey II" in the 1986 remake), a talking plant that feeds off human blood and flesh. A more serious example was the January 12, 1957 episode of Science Fiction Theatre, "The Killer Tree". Stanley G. Weinbaum's 1935 short story, Parasite Planet, describes a variety of carnivorous plants on Venus that eat humans and each other. A variation on this theme occurs in the first Evil Dead movie in which a tree rapes a young woman.

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