India’s Cow-Eating Trees

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 23rd, 2007

Man-Eating Tree

Depiction of a native being consumed by a Ya-te-veo (“I can see you”) carnivorous tree of Central America, from Land and Sea by J.W. Buel, 1887. Source: Wikipedia. (The image appears to be from a woodcut, naturally.)

In Roy Mackal’s book, Searching for Hidden Animals (NY: Doubleday, 1980), his last chapter is entitled “The Monstrous Plants.” It was not about cryptozoology, needless to say, but about cryptobotany, being a short treatise on the Victorian accounts of man-eating plants.

As Mackal points out, many zoologists and botanists have been fascinated by plants that eat meat since the days when Charles Darwin was bitten by this interest, and wrote a definitive work on the subject, Insectivorous Plants, published in 1888.

Like Mackal, who tells of having acquired several varieties of carnivorous plants after reading about them in Darwin, I recall as a boy buying and successfully raising Venus flytraps (Dionaena muscipula), after reading about the plants in Willy Ley’s Salamanders and Other Wonders (NY: Viking, 1955).

Recently, I’ve actually thought about getting some more, to raise them in this bay window here at the museum. The plants still intrigue me. Nature does have some fine wonders.

Anyway, Mackal spends his final chapter detailing mostly the reports from the 1850s through the 1940s of the “Man-Eating Tree of Madagacar,” and the expeditions that searched (unsuccessfully) for the species.

Little did I imagine that I would run across a new story of a similar nature, but here it is, from today, from South India: “Cow-eating trees of Padrame.”

Mangalore: Carnivorous trees grabbing humans and cattle and gobbling them up is not just village folklore.

Residents of Padrame near Kokkoda in Uppinangady forest range sighted one such carnivorous tree trying to dine on a cow last Thursday [October 18, 2007]. According to reports, the cow owned by Anand Gowda had been left to graze in the forests.

The cow was suddenly grabbed by the branches and pulled from the ground. The terrified cowherd ran to the village, and got Gowda and a band of villagers to the carnivorous tree.

Before the tree could have its meal, Anand Gowda and the villagers struck mortal blows to the branches that turned limp and the cow was rescued. Uppinangady range forest officer (RFO) Subramanya Rao said the tree was described as ‘pili mara’ (tiger tree) in native lingo.

He had received many complaints about cattle returning home in the evenings without tails. On Friday, the field staff confirmed coming across a similar tree in Padrane, partially felled down.

However no detailed inquiry was made as the authorities were not asked for any report, Rao said.‘Cow-eating’ trees of Padrame, Tuesday, October 23, 2007, Express News Service, New IndPress.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

27 Responses to “India’s Cow-Eating Trees”

  1. MountDesertIslander responds:

    Brings back memories of the “Safari Shack” I used to watch 35 years ago on Saturday mornings. This program played Tarzan movies, any black and white African adventure movies, and of course a variety of Three Stooges shorts. The common thread in all of these was the omnipresent quicksand, snakes that ambushed from above, and man eating vines that quickly enveloped a lost member of the expidition and pulled him into the thick underbrush. I was in 2nd or 3rd grade before I found out these plants weren’t real. It seems that this myth will always strike a chord in our collective subconsious. Look out folks here it comes again.

  2. Mothmanfan responds:

    Wow, thats intresting. Sort of like the womping willow from Harry Potter (hey, first thing that came to my mind).

  3. cmgrace responds:

    Wow, I have never heard of carnivorous plants so big. That is a really interesting article. And no worries Mothmanfan that is the first thing I thought of too 😉

  4. Artist responds:

    Here’s a nifty Site with a colorful array of data on the Venus Flytrap.

    I seem to remember a mystery about the Flytrap’s source – that they were originally discovered in only one place in the world, and that they are so different from any other kind of plant on Earth that they may have ridden here from space on a meteorite (but that only opens the question about where in space they originated in the first place!).

    But I can’t confirm that rumor.

  5. Artist responds:

    This “Tiger Tree” thing – Venus Flytraps close quickly when three hairs are touched (not just two – the plant can count!), Prayer Plants close their leaves when they are touched, some trees release a pheromone when attacked by insects, allegedly to warn other trees of approaching danger, and many underwater plants react when molested, so why not a tree that can react by moving its vines?

    Vines curl because the side of the vine that touches something receives less light, while the other side continues to grow, so it turns, causing a twist – why couldn’t that process be speeded up, like in the Flytrap, only on a much more vigorous scale?

    Works for me.

  6. i am sasquatch responds:

    Sounds like a giant sundew. Cryptobotany is a pretty interesting science and it should really get more atention than it does. Great article Loren 🙂

  7. Ceroill responds:

    Once long ago I had a Sundew that I ‘caught’ in the wild. I always found them more fascinating than flytraps. All those little tentacles that slowly wrap around the unfortunate insect as it tries to escape the sweet glue that lured it in.

    I’ve also seen that woodcut in other books, it’s a great visual.

  8. shumway10973 responds:

    I always wondered why we didn’t have something like the vine/tree mentioned in an episode of star trek next generation. It is the one where Ryker is fighting for his life, second season. The “branches” (which were actually vines) felt motion from the root system and lashed out with a thorn like the barb on a manta ray’s tail. If the intended victim was scratched by the thorn, paralyzing enzymes were released into the victim’s body. The idea was to have animals paralyzed at the plant’s root system, therefore feeding off the decaying carcass. Actually pulling the cow down–creepy. Makes you wonder how many of the half animal/plant things reported from some of the first explorers were actually true.

  9. bill green responds:

    hey everyone wow lol very informative new article about cow eating trees. it kinda reminds of something i might see in a cartoon but in realty maybe. thanks bill green 🙂

  10. jules responds:

    It’s Little Shop of Horrors! Run! Before Seymor feeds you to it….

  11. Terry W. Colvin responds:

    The link sent by “Artist” confirms that certain Venus flytraps originate in boggy areas of North and South Carolina. This is an unusal location because we naturally think of tropical areas nurturing any such aggressive plants. I wonder if the Mima meteorites are connected and if there is a fossil record or not
    of the Venus flytraps from the Carolinas.

    Again, like others here I think cryptobotany as the macro and micro scales is much overlooked. There are probably many more unknown cryp-plants than cryptids.

  12. theo responds:

    The idea of flesh eating plants have always fascinated me. I have some examples about flesh eating trees in 19th century proto science fiction books (and there’s The Devil Tree of El Dorado, by Frank Aubrey, 1897)

    Hyatt Verill also wrote about a carnivorous plant or tree in one of his books, I think it was about his travels either in South America or Africa. Normally I hate vague posts without any reference, but I lost the title. I’ll try and track it down, though. There’s also the (in)famous Mulhatton yarn about the magnetic cacti or here

  13. mystery_man responds:

    Wow, that is fascinating stuff! This really reminds me of another example of “cryptobotany” I remember reading way back when. It was something about a plant that lived in the Middle East and at the end of its vines had moving pods that took the shape of lambs. I cannot remember many details at all, but does anyone here have any idea of what I’m talking about? If I can find the source, I will mention it, but in the meantime any help jogging my memory would be appreciated!

    One thing that might be helpful about finding any monster plants like this is that they stay put and aren’t out there evading us, so there’s that. 🙂

  14. Ceroill responds:

    MM- You might be thinking of the Borametz, or the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Here’s a site that explains the legend better than I could:

  15. DavidFullam responds:

    Makes me wish they would finally put “Man Eater of Hydra” out on DVD.

  16. mystery_man responds:

    Thanks, Ceroill, that is the one I was thinking of! I’d be interested to hear from any knowledgeable botanists here about their opinions on how feasible they think a carnivorous plant capable of eating cows or people is. Even if it is not possible at all, it is interesting for me to speculate on how some of these stories might have gotten started. All of this has got me to thinking about cryptid plants and not even the sensational ones like the above mentioned “cow eating plant”. Finding new species of plant could have some real benefits through not only expanding our understanding of the natural world, but by providing possible new components for use in medicines. Animals are more within my realm of interest, but the pursuit of new plant species is most definitely a worthwhile endeavor. All in all, it is good to see an article on, for me, a little glimpsed side of cryptids.

  17. Ceroill responds:

    MM- I agree completely. I’m hardly an expert but it is easy to speculate (not even hypothesize, just speculate, I’m not propounding any theories) about how such things would work- While there are plants that move at a visible rate (such as the insectivorous ones we’ve already discussed), it is still almost always very slow compared to muscle driven motions (exception: flytraps, and that’s from something analogous to a spring being released, as I recall) . To compensate for this they all have to have a way of immobilizing the prey once it’s been lured in. Glue, in the case of something small like bugs, but I could imagine a larger plant using some kind of chemical or spore to disorient, knock out, or even outright kill the prey. Then the plant would have plenty of time to encapsulate and digest.

    Of course it’s also easy to speculate on how the myths originated. The first idea that springs to my mind is someone finding bones at the base of a tree, perhaps a broad assortment of bones, obviously more than one animal or person.

  18. red_pill_junkie responds:

    Where the Hell is Treebeard when you need him??? 😉

  19. sschaper responds:


    Carnivorous plants exist in the upper midwest and further north, particularly pitcher plants and sundew.

  20. jedimaster5000 responds:

    Now this this is something I was waiting for a long time (not only I’m going to save it on this computer, but I’ll also put it in my 360 site).

    Now to wait until the day I go there to see it my self (unless of course humans made them extinct, just like they made exist the moa, dodo, pessenger pigeon, and the great auk, who can all talk more intelligently then humans can).

  21. mystery_man responds:

    Ceroill- Yes, indeed we can speculate about how such things would work, i was just wondering if there were any actual botanist opinions floating around out there. This stuff is fascinating for me to speculate about, and I like the ideas you put forth. I am more a zoologist than a botanist, but I agree that such a large carnivorous plant would likely not have fast moving tentacles, etc, as plants just don’t have musculature as we know it. Any thing of that sort would be a dramatic departure from the norm and would be a huge discovery in its own right. I also think that these sorts of “cow eating” plants would probably rely on entrapping their prey with some sort of adhesive substance or immobilize them with poison rather than lashing out at them with some appendage like a sci-fi movie. I think the plants would likely be immobile, but that leads me to speculate about what the plant would utilize to bring its prey in close enough to trap. It seems to me any sort of “spring loaded” mechanism would also be inefficient and unwieldy at the size required to eat, say, an ever lovin’ COW! Great topic!

  22. CryptoGoji responds:

    Do any of you get the feeling that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson had it right when the published the first “Monster Manual” for Dungeons and Dragons?

  23. springheeledjack responds:

    A larger specimen of carnivorous plant I can grant possibility on…but it would have to be truly enormous to grab a cow, lift it off the ground and pull it in…think that is where the legend starts leaking in:)

    But there is always a possibility that a tree could emulate a fly trap…I would think it would need to either be near a ready food source or not have to eat very often.

    interesting topic though…food for thought…

  24. jules responds:

    Well, those trees in The Wizard of OZ were pretty mean!

  25. Pygar responds:

    Although I presume that it is because it isn’t as well known in US as in British culture, I’m nevertheless surprised that John Wyndham’s classic 1951 sci-fi novel The Day of the Triffids hasn’t been mentioned yet. The Triffids were man eating plants par excellence, because they could actually walk, which extraordinary ability helped them eventually to take over the planet. Although an apparent meteor shower (the novel’s hero speculates that it may actually have been a space-based laser attack) plays a part in the novel by blinding the majority of the earth’s population so that they are more vulnerable to Triffid attacks, the speculated origin of the Triffids is not outer-space but rather bioengineering by the (now former) Soviet Union.

    The best science fiction has often been predictive, so just perhaps, given the advancements that have since been made in manipulating plant and animal forms and functions through genetic engineering, we should consider crossing our fingers before scoffing too heartily at such reports of man-eating trees. 😉

  26. DavidFullam responds:

    The awesome BBC version of Triffids hits DVD in November.

  27. Alligator responds:

    Konga – the 1961 British contribution to the giant gorilla movies, also had a lot to do with man-eating plants. Dr. Charles Decker (MIchael Gough aka Alfred the Butler in the Batman movies) goes missing in Afirca for a year and is presumed dead. He returns and cultivates the man-eating plants he found in remotest jungle and synthesizes serum from them to turn a chimp into a 100 ffot tall gorilla. His love interest (one of his female students) gets chomped on by a plant as Konga rampages through London and knocks Big Ben down.

    If you loved Mystery Science Theater 3000, get this movie. You will enjoy it and its rubber plants.

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