Fact and Fiction of Man-Eating Plants

Fact and Fiction of Man-Eating Plants

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They've been a staple ingredient for horror for centuries - Man-eating plants, body snatchers and mind-controlling monsters, bloodsuckers, and creepy-crawly things that go bump in the night. Plants are the silent member of a league that includes Vampires, Frankenstein, and Werewolves. Strange plant myths have permeated nightmares, literature, television, and film. And why shouldn't they? 

From Devil’s Claw, Death Apple, and Witches Hair to Dracula Orchids or Zombie Palms, many plants have spooky-sounding names too! Whether it's a ten-year-old with his pet Venus Fly Trap or explorers warily moving through the jungle, the supernatural and myth of man-eating or moving plants are a primal curiosity and fear.

Botanophobia is the Term for an Intense Fear of Plants!

Living Death Traps - Carnivorous Plants! colorful pitcher plant

In soil with poor fertility, some plants have to resort to other more nefarious means. Influencing books and movies like "Little Shop of Horrors", “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors” (1965), and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". While as terrifying as they are in our imagination, they are just as terrifying in real life! Luckily for us, on a much smaller scale! 

The Venus Fly Trap, even when motionless, looks alien and deadly! Each of its modified leaves ends in what appears to be a mouth, and the coincidental red coloring on its palate and toothy-looking teeth-like hairs around its trap-door mouth only reinforces the imagery. Luckily, these only trap insects, invertebrates, and small frogs or lizards too slow to escape. Once triggered, specialized cells inside its ‘mouth’ leach the nitrogen from the victim's body.

While Venus Fly Traps may be the most famous carnivorous plant, the Pitcher Plant is by far the most common. Out of all carnivorous plants, Nepenthes, Cobras Tongue/Cobra Lilys, Tropical Pitcher Plants are the only ones capable of consuming mammals. The traps of the Nepenthes rajah and Rafflesiana are so large that drowned rats, frogs, lizards, birds, and even small monkeys have been found inside 

Once drowned, the prey creatures dissolve in the corrosive fluid inside the pitcher - much like our stomach. The only thing keeping these plants from being man-eaters is their size; they are too small for people to fall into them.

Sundews are another carnivorous species that have sticky substances on specialized leaves that trap and then dissolve insects for extra nutrients. There are even aquatic predatory plants called Bladderworts that eat anything they can catch underwater! If a small animal triggers the bristles of a Bladderwort, it triggers a trap that suddenly opens and causes a quick rush of water that sucks the prey inside.

Nyctohylophobia - Fear of Dark Woods at Night

Man-Eating Trees

In a 1924 book titled, "Madagascar, Land of the Man-Eating Tree", and there is H.G. Wells' short story "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid" that both delve into the frightening possibility of man-eating trees and plants! While we don’t have any man-eating orchids or trees, there is a Sheep Eating plant that may well be the stuff of nightmares! 

Puya chilensis are infamous plants in Chile. Members of the Bromeliad family, Puya are related to Pineapples. When in bloom, they can grow to 8-9 feet (3 meters) high. These plants live in poor soil and harsh conditions, so to make up for their lack of nutrients, they’ve developed long jagged spikes that protect the plants from browsing. However, these jagged spikes are also well known to grab onto animals' fleece (typically sheep in the area) and trap them until they starve and die. Their rotting corpse adds nutrients to the soil at the base of the plant!

Anthophobia is the Extreme Fear of Flowers!

The Stench of Death! titan arum-corpse plant

Not all Corpse flowers are carnivorous, but ironically they may very well be where the legends of jungle-dwelling man-eating plants come from! The Titan Arum and Dead Horse Arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus) is a smaller version of the Titan but there are actually dozens of varieties in the Arum family! While these may not be man or insect eaters, they certainly smell like there’s something dead nearby! The purpose of this scent is simple - Carrion flowers rely on insects such as flies and beetles for pollination. Since these insects feed on rotting flesh, the smell attracts them!

The Titan Arum is an enormous plant and is in fact the largest flower in the world reaching heights of over nine feet. One can only imagine a native tribe moving through the jungle only to stumble upon a plant nearly twice their size, and reeking of decayed flesh. It wouldn't be hard to assume what the intimidating plant's natural diet must be. 

Today, Carrion flowers are a crown jewel within the world's greatest botanical gardens. Another flower that smells like carrion is Rafflesia Arnoldii are both enormous flowers that earned their ghoulish nicknames by giving off the scent of rotting flesh. The Rafflesia Corpse Flower also smells like death itself and can reach 3 feet (1 meter) across and weigh 15 pounds is also parasitic and leeches nutrients off the roots of its host plant. The Starfish Cactus (Stapelia gigantea) also stink like death itself to attract its pollinators.

Dracunculus vulgaris has many names including Voodoo Lily, Snake Lily, Stink Lily, the Black Dragon and Dragonwort is one vulgar-smelling West Coast in California, Oregon and Washington.

Hylophobia - Fear of Forests

Walking Plants and Shambling Mounds!

walking tree

In the novel and movie "The Day of the Triffids", Triffids are a species of highly venomous, fully mobile, carnivorous plants with at least basic intelligence. The origin of the plants is never set in stone, but it is strongly suggested that they are the result of experiments within the Soviet Union. Triffids remain rooted when at rest, but are completely capable of uprooting themselves and "walking". In real life, we do actually have ‘walking’ plants! From Egyptian Walking Onions to walking grass. Plants that can travel are able to better spread their seeds over a larger area while limiting competition in their own areas. 

Walking Onions accomplish this by forming bulblets and small plants on their tall stalks that then fall over when ready. The babies on the tops, then root and start the process over again but farther from the parent plant. 

A Wild Oat in Israel has two spurs or bristles called ‘awns’ and once they fall from the seedheads can unwind, causing the seed to ‘walk’ away from the parent plant and find new ground to root in.

A rainforest Palm tree (Socratea exorrhiza) native to tropical Central and South America jas developed a method of walking from shade to sun! By growing new roots towards the direction they want to travel and allowing the old roots to die so they can move. These trees have been clocked moving 2 centimeters a day and up to 20 meters a year if needed!

Dendrophobia is the fear of Trees!

Plants That Are Smarter Than Us? The Blob May Be!

In 1958 a big ball of pink slime ate everything in its path in the movie "The Blob", but there are real-life Blobs! Physarum polycephalum has been studied by scientists for years and ayellow slime mold nicknamed "The Blob" because of how these acellular Slime Molds move and grow. What’s so special about this mold? Well, Slime molds are an amoeba-like group of organisms called myxomycetes. They have 720 sexes, heal themselves in minutes when cut in half, and can solve mazes! Their gooey, bright-colored branched - almost fractal or net-like bodies - can be found creeping along over logs and the forest floor. Their cells can ‘smell’ food, and have a unique way they propel their protoplasm toward food by pulsing or squeezing towards it - while learning the most efficient route to it.

One Slime Mold being studied in France is aptly named The Blob, which has proven that it can learn and then retain what it learned for at least a year - even passing the learned information on to its offspring! Solving complex math and algorithms with efficiency, these Slime Molds are being used to streamline city roads and subway routes and may even help engineer faster computers!

All this without a mouth, nervous system, eyes, or brain! Lucky for us, these extra-terrestrial-looking fungi only eat bacteria, yeast and decomposing plant material. Some other types of Slime Mold commonly found in our area are the alien-looking Cedar-Apple Rust that erupts into orange slimy tentacles each summer. Another found appearing on our mulch in moist summer conditions is aptly named the Dog Vomit Slime Mold and the Witches’ Butter Mold.

Creepy Plants!

Whether on the stage, in literature, in our garden, or in our imaginations, man-eating plants will always be a fixture within humanity's lore! Add a bit of spookiness to your world year-round with the help of NatureHills.com!

Want some scary things to go and see next time you are abroad? Check out the Poison Garden at England’s Alnwick Garden is filled with plants that can kill! 

Spooky Planting!

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