Man-eating tree hoax 1881 - Is this in the museum yet?
Posted: 20 November 2011 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hello, I’m new here, and have found an old hoax that may not be on file yet.

I teach biology, and was recently asked to check some old books at my college’s library to see which were too out-of-date to keep on the shelves.  One of these, “Willy Ley’s Exotic Zoology” (1961), describes the author’s search for historical cryptid reports and the real-world organisms that might have inspired them.  One such report that Mr. Ley investigated was from a 1924 book: “Madagascar, Land of the Man-Eating Tree”, by Chase Salmon Osborn.

Osborn’s book, obscure and long OOP even in 1961, apparently contains a letter about a primitive Madagascar tribe that sacrifices its own members by feeding them to a carnivorous tree, in exchange for the tree’s narcotic nectar.  Mr. Ley tried to track down the letter’s alleged source, the 1880 “Carlsruhe Scientific Journal”, only to find that this publication never existed.  Nor did the letter’s alleged author, Dr. Omelius Fredlowski, or intended recipient, Carl Liche.  None of the works on Madagascar that Ley could find, that dated between 1880 and 1924, made any mention of the carnivorous tree, the tribe, or any indigenous legend about either.  Eventually, he did track down the story’s likely source: a short article in a missionary magazine, ‘‘Antanarivo Annual and Madagascar Magazine for the year 1881”, that was published locally in Madagascar and virtually unknown elsewhere ... except, apparently, to C.S. Osborn, who copied the “letter” verbatim in his book.

So, it appears that Chase Salmon Osborn, and a few later authors who unwittingly copied the story from him, was taken in by a fake letter dreamed up by a minor magazine, probably as a joke that its intended audience would’ve immediately recognized as such.  Anyone ever heard of this one before?  If not, I can type in a transcript of the “letter” if it’s something the Museum can use.

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Posted: 21 November 2011 01:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Welcome to our forums. Is this what you are talking about?

(From Wikipedia)

The Madagascar tree

The earliest well known report of a 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.[6] 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,[7] science author Willy Ley determined that the Mkodo tribe, Carl Liche, and the Madagascar man-eating tree itself all appeared to be fabrications.

I don’t know if the MOH Forums search function is working OK now or not. So I don’t know if it’s already on here. It seems an interesting hoax, you should post a link to it if you have one.

Sharlee - 20 November 2011 04:01 PM

Anyone ever heard of this one before?  If not, I can type in a transcript of the “letter” if it’s something the Museum can use.

I’m sure that would be an interesting read. Thanks for offering. I’d like to read it myself.

Have fun. grin

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Posted: 21 November 2011 04:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Welcome to the forum, Sharlee.  This hoax sounds rather interesting, and a quick search of the Museum doesn’t bring up a match.  So yes, please provide links and a transcript of the letter. smile

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Posted: 24 November 2011 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Welcome Sharlee.

I worry for the little lemurs.downer Do they know to avoid this tree?

This is actually a favourite ‘myth’ or natural history hoax of mine. That this land of unique wildlife was once known for an entirely fabricated piece of fauna seems ironic.

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Posted: 27 November 2011 07:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well there you go. Alex just posted it out of the hoax archive and onto the front page. smile

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Posted: 29 November 2011 06:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Could that be the genesis of what led to monstrous vegetation in TV shows like Lost in Space and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea?

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Posted: 03 December 2011 07:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Strangely, I don’t remember having noticed Sharlee’s post until now (Dec 2), but something inspired me to start researching the man-eating tree story and putting an article about it in the archive a few days later. So perhaps I did see Sharlee’s post, but didn’t remember seeing it, and somehow it worked subconsciously on me to motivate me to research the story. Weird.

Anyway, I found out that most of what was online about the man-eating tree, and in the Willy Ley book (which I had to get via interlibrary loan), was wrong. Link to the archive article.

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