Imagine walking through the woods, when you happen upon a tree…a tree that looks like no other tree you’ve ever seen. You go to touch it, because it’s unique, perhaps even beuatiful…drawing you in…then suddenly, it grabs and devours you! Does such a tree or plants exist? Although there are tales dating back to the 1880’s of carnivorous trees…the first carnivorous plant to be identified by botanists, was the Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula) in the 1760’s. It was unbelievable that a plant could capture and consume living specimens!
A century later…other reports started rolling in about carnivorous plants and even trees that could ensare and devour creatures as large as birds, dogs, and monkeys…and even humans! Dr. Karl Shuker, a well known, British Cryptozoologist states that “the most incredible case on file is one that first came to Western attention via an extraordinary letter allegedly received during the early 1870s (differing accounts give different dates) by Polish biologist Dr Omelius Fredlowski (sometimes spelt ‘Friedlowsky’). According to the letter’s contents, at least one Western explorer claimed to have witnessed an all-too-real, fatal encounter with a rapacious botanical monster (as portrayed vividly in the illustration opening this present ShukerNature article of mine) that would put even the worst excesses of Audrey II to shame!
The letter Dr. Shuker is referring to is from Carl Liche (a.k.a. ‘Karl’ and as ‘Leche’ or in other various combinations). Carl Liche was a German explorer in the 1880’s and had been visiting a primitive tribe called the Mkodos on the island of Madagascar with a Westerner named Hendrick. It is said that Liche and Hendrick were shown a mishapen, grotesque tree, which the Mkodos referred to as the tepe, and to which humans were sacrificed:
“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 trunk of the tree, a dark dingy brown, and apparently as hard as iron. From the apex of this truncated cone eight leaves hung sheer to the ground. These leaves were about 11 or 12 ft long, tapering to a sharp point that looked like a cow’s horn, and with a concave face thickly set with strong thorny hooks. The apex of the cone was a round white concave figure like a smaller plate set within a larger one. This was not a flower but a receptacle, and there exuded into it a clear treacly liquid, honey sweet, and possessed of violent intoxicating and soporific properties. From underneath the rim of the undermost plate a series of long hairy green tendrils stretched out in every direction. These were 7 or 8 ft long. Above these, six white almost transparent palpi [tentacles] reared themselves toward the sky, twirling and twisting with a marvellous incessant motion. Thin as reeds, apparently they were yet 5 or 6 ft tall.”
Suddenly, after a shrieking session of prayers to this sinister tree, the natives encircled one of the women in their tribe, and forced her with their spears to climb its trunk, until at last she stood at its summit, surrounded by its tentacle-like palpi dancing like snakes on all sides. The natives told the doomed woman to drink, so she bent down and drank the treacle-like fluid filling the tree’s uppermost plate, and became wild with hysterical frenzy:
“But she did not jump down, as she seemed to intend to do. Oh no! The atrocious cannibal tree that had been so inert and dead came to sudden savage life. The slender delicate palpi, with the fury of starved serpents, quivered a moment over her head, then 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 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 the savage tenacity of anacondas fastening upon their prey. And now the great leaves slowly rose and stiffly erected themselves in the air, approached one another and closed about the dead and hampered victim with the silent force of a hydraulic press and the ruthless purpose of a thumb screw.
“While I could see the bases of these great levers pressing more tightly towards each other, from their interstices there trickled down the stalk of the tree great streams of the viscid honeylike fluid mingled horribly with the blood and oozing viscera of the victim. At the sight of this the savage hordes around me, yelling madly, bounded forward, crowded to the tree, clasped it, and with cups, leaves, hands and tongues each obtained enough of the liquor to send him mad and frantic. Then ensued a grotesque and indescribably hideous orgy. May I never see such a sight again.
“The retracted leaves of the great tree kept their upright position during ten days, then when I came one morning they were prone again, the tendrils stretched, the palpi floating, and nothing but a white skull at the foot of the tree to remind me of the sacrifice that had taken place there.”
Liche subsequently dubbed the tepe Crinoida dajeeana (after a fancied resemblance to the starfish-related crinoids or sea-lilies, and in honour of a noted Bombay physician, Dr Bhawoo Dajee).
Carl Liche was not the only visitor to Madagascar to learn of this nightmarish species. Chase Salmon Osborn, Governor of Michigan from 1911-13, traveled to Madagascar during the early 1920s in the hopes of witnessing the carnivorous tree. Unfortunately however, but perhaps lucky for him, he was unsuccessful in locating one, though it was apparently well-known to natives all over the island, and even some of the Western missionaries working there. Mr. Liche also claimed that from the very earliest times, Madagascar had been known as ‘the land of the man-eating tree’, which he used as the title of a book that he later wrote about his sojourn in Madagascar (though the tepe itself scarcely featured in it).
According to Wikipedia…in his 1955 book, Salamanders and other Wonders, science author Willy Ley determined that the Mkodo tribe, Carl Liche, and the Madagascar man-eating tree itself all appeared to be fabrications.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of explorers searched for the man-eating tree in Madagascar, not realizing that the story was a NY World hoax.
In 1888 the story was fully exposed for what it was, and its author identified. Frederick Maxwell Somers had launched a new magazine, Current Literature, and in the second issue he reprinted the story of the man-eating tree and provided information about its origin: It was written years ago by Mr. Edmund Spencer for the N.Y. World. While Mr. Spencer was connected with that paper he wrote a number of stories, all being remarkable for their appearance of truth, the extraordinary imagination displayed, and for their somber tone. Mr. Spencer was a master of the horrible, some of his stories approaching closely to those of Poe in this regard. Like many clever men his best work is hidden in the files of the daily press. This particular story of the Crinoida Dajeeana, the Devil Tree of Madagascar, was copied far and wide, and caused many a hunt for the words of Dr. Friedlowsky. It was written as the result of a talk with some friends, during which Mr. Spencer maintained that all that was necessary to produce a sensation of horror in the reader was to greatly exaggerate some well-known and perhaps beautiful thing. He then stated that he would show what could be done with the sensitive plant when this method of treatment was applied to it. The devil-tree is, after all, only a monstrous variety of the ‘Venus fly trap’ so common in North Carolina. Mr. Spencer died about two years ago in Baltimore, Md. Frank Vincent: The first man-eating-tree searcher was the American travel writer Frank Vincent, author of Actual Africa. He traveled throughout Madagascar during the early 1890s, and while he wasn’t there specifically to search for the man-eating tree, he later told reporters that he did ask around about it “for his own personal satisfaction”. However, he couldn’t find it and concluded that accounts of it were “the purest Munchausenism”.
It seems that almost every detail in the story was fictitious. None of the individuals mentioned in it existed…not Karl Leche, Dr. Omelius Friedlowsky, or Dr. Bhawoo Dajee. The Mkodos were apparently not a real tribe, and the tree itself, was pure fantasy…a gothic horror of the colonial era. However, the source to which the story was credited, “Graefe and Walther’s Magazine, published at Carlsruhe”, was a real publication. Or, at least, there was a scientific journal founded by two prestigious German surgeons, Karl Ferdinand von Graefe and Philipp Franz von Walther, titled Journal der Chirurgie und Augenheilkunde (The Surgical and Ophthalmic Journal). This journal interestingly enough was published in Berlin, not Carlsruhe. Also, it began publication in 1820 and ended in 1850, following the death of Walther. So by 1874, there hadn’t been a new issue of the journal for 24 years. Therefor, this journal was NOT the original source of the man-eating tree story.
The idea that a carnivorous tree existed, was not to be tamed however…for after The Tree of Madagascar tale…in central America, in the late 1880’s, reports were made of a tree called the Ya-Te-Veo.
And in Sea and Land (1887), J.W. Buel included a description and image of a Ya-Te-Veo tree,
that was said to grow in South America. It supposedly caught and consumed humans by means of its long tendrils:
It is said to grow in parts of Central and South America with cousins in Africa and on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Though there are many different descriptions of the plant, most reports say it has a short, thick trunk, and long, tendril like appendages which are used to catch prey. Some have even claimed that it has an eye to locate it’s prey with.
Over the years, the media has taken off with these tales of horror as the tree and other carnivorous plants are repeatedly utilized in movies throughout the 20th century. Ron Sullivan and Jon Eaton, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007, noted that the man-eating tree of Madagascar served as the “progenitor of a whole literary dynasty of sinister plants.” These included: “H.G. Wells’ Strange Orchid (it stupefied its victims with perfume and sucked their blood with its tendrils); John Wyndham’s peripatetic Triffids; the Widow’s Weed in Gus Arriola’s ‘Gordo’ comic strip; and, not least, Audrey II of ‘Little Shop of Horrors.'”
Carl Liche, it seems, is not who he claimed to be. Researchers who investigated this case in the 20th century found no evidence to prove Liche’s story, or even his existence for that matter. Those who investigate unknown animals are called cryptozoologists (or perhaps in this case, cryptobotanists). As they’re known for being somewhat credulous, you can probably take the sceptics’ word for it when they say that this crypto-veggie doesn’t exist. Or does it?
Since the story of The Madagascar Tree, and the Ya-Te-Veo Tree, other reports continue rolling in about various man-eating trees…The Nubian Tree for example, found in Nubia, and The Vampire Vine in Nicaragua, called “The Devil’s Snare” by the local natives.
The Tree of Madagascar appears to have been debunked…however can we prove unequivically that there are no carnivorous plants or trees like that of the Ya-Te-Veo existing that can capture and consume a human? So far it seems not…however we cannot also claim for a fact, that it does exists. What we do know, is that there are in fact various carniorous plants aside from the common Venus Fly Trap. The carnivorous plant with the largest known traps is probably Nepenthes rajah, which produces pitchers up to 38 cm (15 in) tall with a volume of up to 3.5 litres (0.77 imp gal; 0.92 US gal). This species may rarely trap small mammals.
There are many events that happen in people’s lives that others consider unbelievable, implausible, or otherwise, unexplainable. Events such as near death experiences (NDEs), various paranormal phenomena, alien encounters, etc. For many…if they can’t see it, smell it, taste or hear it, and they particularly haven’t experienced it…then it doesn’t exist.
Today I’m going to write about a legend…a mysterious legend that has yet to be solved…yet some are absolutely convinced of it’s existence; The Lochness Monster…said to be located in “The Loch.”
“The Loch” is fresh body of water that is considered to be the largest freshwater lake with a depth of 788 feet. The Loch is approximately 23 miles long, is located directly over the Great Glen Fault in Great Britain, and runs from Inverness on the Moray Firth to Fort William at the head of Loch Linnhe. It is here, that the first sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, a.k.a. Nessie, is said to occur, dating all the back to 565 AD, where it is said that the monster snatched, and consumed a local farmer, and was forced back into the waters by the missionary, St. Columbia.
Rumors of the beast continued to spread over the years at Loch Ness. Some people believe that the ancient Scottish myths about water creatures, such as Kelpies and the Each Guise (meaning ‘water horse’), are the source behind the idea that a massive water creature continues to dwell in the depths of Loch Ness.
The 20th century is when the stories of the Loch Ness Monster really took form. In 1933, construction began on the A82…the road that runs along the north shore of the Loch. There was a significant amount of drilling and blasting, and as a result, it is believed that this disruption forced the monster from the depths out into the open. Around this time, there were numerous sightings.
On November 12, 1933, a British Aluminum company worker named Hugh Gray watched “an object of considerable dimensions” rise out of the murky waters of the Loch and when it was two to three feet out of the water, Gray photographed the unknown thing. Gray’s ambiguous photograph was published internationally. In the year following the release of the Gray photograph, there were over fifty sightings. Nessie hit the headlines and has remained the topic of fierce debate ever since.
Generally considered the first sighting of “Nessie” back in 565 A.D., that case was studied by Charles Thomas, Director of the Institute of Cornish Studies at the University of Exeter, England, who published his findings in the Journal of the International Society of Cryptozoology. Thomas concluded that the significance of the supposed encounter should be discounted as misleading since a critical examination of the original text (reported from oral tradition 110 years after the event) reveals that St. Columba probably encountered a large, stray marine mammal in the River Ness, rather than a monster in the Loch.Thomas’s findings are based on sound scholarship and reasoning, and would lead the unbiased researcher to conclude that the first non-retrospective sightings of the Loch Ness Monster actually occurred in the 1930s.
Sightings continued to occur, to the point where in the 1960s, the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau decided to conduct a ten-year observational survey which resulted in documenting an average of 20 sightings per year. By the end of the decade, mini-submarines were being used for the first time to explore the depths of the Loch using sophisticated sonar equipment. New public interest arose in the mid 1970s as a result of this when underwater photographs of what appeared to be a ‘flipper’ were made public.
“To date there have been over 3000 recorded sightings of the celebrity monster, according to cryptozoologist Roy P. Mackal, author of The Monsters of Loch Ness. This figure may be on the high side, but whatever the figure is, Nessie is certainly one of the most-sighted monsters in the world.
British newspapers reported that on June 17, 1993 a young mother, Edna MacInnes, and her boyfriend David Mackay, both of Inverness, Scotland, claimed to have watched the Loch Ness monster for 10 minutes. MacInnes, age 25, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that the 40 foot monster swam around, waving its long giraffe-like neck and then vanished into the murky waters of the loch in what was the first major sighting of the year.
“It was a very light colored brown. You could see it very clearly,” Miss MacInnes recalled. The creature was estimated to be a mile away, but appeared huge. Edna MacInnes reportedly ran along the shore in an attempt to keep up with Nessie.
“I was scared when the wash from its wake lapped on the shore, but I just kept running behind it. By the time it plunged below the surface I was running as fast as I could go,” Miss MacInnes exclaimed. She and her boyfriend ran to get a camera and binoculars from a relative’s house nearby and returned to the Loch. Shortly thereafter they had another sighting. This time the creature was only 20 feet from the shore, and David attempted to photograph Nessie. Unfortunately, the resulting photos showed a wake but no monster.
Later the same evening, James MacIntosh of Inverness was returning from a fishing trip with his son, also named James. Young James first sighted the unidentified object, telling his father, “Dad, that’s not a boat.”
“I was concentrating on my driving but I looked over the loch and I suddenly saw this brown thing with a neck like a giraffe break the surface. It was an eerie experience. It was swimming quite swiftly away from the shore at the time,” recounted the elder MacIntosh.
Based on the strength of the sighting, bookmakers William Hill cut the odds against Nessie being found from 500-1 to 100-1. According to National Geographic, since 1987, bookmaker William Hill has paid the Natural History Museum in London an annual fee of £1,000 to ensure that its experts would confirm Nessie’s identity, should the monster ever be found.
Seeing that there have been so many documented sightings, one would think that another, more clear photograph or at some point, a video would have captured the creature. However no one yet has been able to provide definitive proof of it’s existence.
Due to the lack of proof, various skeptics have come up with their own theories as to what the Loch Ness Monster truly is.
In the year 2001, an event in Edinburgh, Scotland was put on by the Geological Societies of America and London. A scientist from Italy by the name of Luigi Piccardi, informally argued that Loch Ness sightings could be blamed on geological activity, meaning earthquakes occurring around the lake. He stated that these earthquakes could have generated the movement of the water as though a monster were seething underneath. Piccardi’s theory was repeated recently in an interview he gave to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and has since gone viral: “Loch Ness Monster Mystery Explained,” reported Fox News.
Earthquakes in the Loch Ness area are usually at a magnitude of 3 or 4…not strong enough to send the lake water shivering, the Scientific American reports. However larger quakes have been recorded in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901, though these dates don’t correlate to prior monster sightings, like in 1933, when “Nessie” sightings were popular after the Spicer couple documented theirs.
Piccardi’s geological explanation could’ve possibly covered what might have caused the circumstances that suggested a monster gurgling underwater. However how can we explain what caused people to see in that lake…an enormous, mythical sea creature? That leap might be due to what is called “availability heuristics,” says professor Cronk. In other words…the human brain will intelligently look for the most available solution to explain an visual problem. For example, when a visitor has gone to Loch Ness Lake, and is well aware of its depths, the monster is the most rational solution to explain sudden waves in the water as opposed to the possibility of the geological explanation above.
And so Piccardi’s hypothesis falls to the wayside, like other unsatisfying scientific theories, attempting to explain what Loch Ness visitors feel they witnessed. Some hypothesize for example, that Nessie is actually an eel or a sea otter generating the patterns in the water, or that perhaps birds generate the pattern in the water when they take flight; or maybe it’s that floating, dead pine tree logs have been mistaken for a serpent; etc.
Although there appears to be a plausible explanation, people still hold onto the idea that good old “Nessie”, exists. In the year 2005, it was said that 100 athletes, about to take part in Scotland’s biggest triathlons were each insured for £1 million against any possible bites from the Loch Ness Monster. In as recently as 2009, a man claimed he saw the Loch Ness monster via Google Earth satellite images.
What Piccardi’s, and so many other theories out there lack however, is how the role of the human component plays into it. The brain has this amazing ability to gather bits and pieces of information collected from the world that it doesn’t understand, and categorize it into a meaningful, believable narrative.
“People don’t want an explanation that it’s just in their head. They want a geological explanation. But that geological explanation is also just in your head,” says Brian Cronk, chair of the psychology department at Missouri Western State University.
“Humans are really smart animals. And one of the things are brains are always doing is trying to find the meaning in things,” says Cronk. “So if you’re at the lake, and you want to see the monster, and then you see a random, unexplained shape, your brain will make it into the Loch Ness monster.”
On a side note…while compiling my notes for this article, I realized that the explanation above parallels with proven evidence that applies to photos in which people see faces in that instead of an actual face being viewed, it’s actually a phenomenon called Pareidolia.
“People who are believers in an unproven phenomenon will reject any plausible explanation to the contrary and only be receptive to explanations which support their views,” says Bryan Farha, director of Applied Behavioral Studies & Counseling at Oklahoma City University, in an email interview.
We might also want to believe because, well, we want to: a world full of not-quite-explainable monsters is more entertaining than one without it.
“Many people believe weird things because they have a need to be entertained – and it’s far more entertaining to believe in the extraordinary than the mundane,” says professor Farha.
One explanation for Nessie says that, because the Loch is directly over the Great Glen Fault, “sightings” are actually disturbances on the water surface caused by fault activity. For those who believe in the Loch Ness Monster…due to the fact that no proof has been given that the monster exists, perhaps we are left with the possible explanations provided above. That being said…this is not to say that it isn’t plausible that something unexplained isn’t in fact real. Just because someone else did not experience it, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen…however until definitive proof is provided, we are unable to state for a fact that what seems impossible or unlikely, is a reality.