Shepparton Advertiser (Vic) Thursday, March 3, 1921
This article is titled: THE SACRED TREE OF DEATH. Monster Plant That Devours Girls.
The noted German explorer and scientist, Dr. Karl Leche, has brought back from the wilds of Madagascar one of the most amazing stories that have ever come from the African island.
He has described, in the Carlsruhe Scientific Journal,’' a plant which seems to be an extraordinary development of a certain curious form of vegetable life to which the famous Venus flytrap, or pitcher plant, and other Insect catching and eating vegetation belongs.
This plant, or tree, which he calls Crinoida Darjeena, attains, according to Dr. Leche, a size of ten feet, and is powerful enough to enmesh and destroy a human being. The Mykonos, the tribe in whose territory it is found, revere it as a fetish and sacrifice maidens of their tribe to it, says Dr. Leche.
"I had gone,” he writes, ‘‘to Madagascar, to visit Queen Ranavalona II, and was persuaded, to visit the Mkodos by a native who had heard that besides, generous daily pay, I was accustomed to rewarding liberally anyone who showed me something strange or out of the way.
"In his company, I journeyed to the south-eastern part of the island, inland among the hills covered with thick virgin forest, where there Is a district practically unknown, whose white visitors can be numbered on the fingers of one hand.
This is the region inhabited by the Mykonos. “It was while among these natives that I was witness to what was probably the most horrible sight I have ever seen. Their religion consists in the worship of their sacred tree, one of the most wonderful freaks of Nature. To this tree, they offer human sacrifice.
“The sacred tree is most remarkable in appearance. Its trunk, which rarely rises ten feet above the ground, is of a strange, barrel-like shape, covered with a quaint mosaic sort of bark, looking like nothing so much as a gigantic pineapple. At the top of this trunk it is between eight and nine feet in circumference, and upon it is fixed a remarkable growth very much resembling a huge plate.
From the top of the trunk there hung eight leaves. They were of extraordinary size, ten to twelve feet long, a foot wide where they were hinged to the tree, widening to about two feet, and finally tapering down to a point as sharp as a needle. They were plentifully strewn with huge, venomous looking thorns.
“These leaves could not have been less than fifteen inches thick in the center and hung down inertly along the trunk, their point trailing in the earth. Above these, there stretched, rigidly and horizontally, a number of branches several feet in length. Finally, from underneath the plate-like
arrangement there grew, pointing- upward, half-a-dozen frail-looking stamens—palpi would be a better name, I believe—that shivered constantly, as branches several feet in length.
“It seems the. plate-like affair on top of the trunk contained some thick sweet juice. This liquid, which is a product of the tree and was probably originally intended to attract birds, is highly intoxicating, and even a very small quantity very soon produces coma.
"When sacrifices take place a woman is forced to climb into the tree and drink. If the ‘devil’ inside is in good humor, then the girl will be allowed to get down again in safety. If he was feeling ugly, however, then the poor girl was out of luck. Exactly how the tree was going to prevent her from jumping down I could not make out, but I was to learn eventually.
“One evening my guide presented himself to me and told me that what he had been waiting for would take place that night.
“That night, having made the chief a present to ensure that I would be welcome to witness their ceremony, I followed the tribe into the forest. They made their way to the sacred tree, and round - it built twelve fires so that the whole surroundings were lit up brightly. Then they disposed themselves about them and made themselves at home, some eating, but most of them drinking huge gourdfuls of native ferment.
“Very soon they were all of them more or less intoxicated, both the men and the women, with the exception of a young girl nearby, who neither spoke nor moved but glanced about her as if she were terrified out of her wits:
Suddenly without warning, the yelling ceased and they scattered away like frightened deer. The crucial point had arrived. For, a moment there was complete silence but for the crackling of the fire. Intuition told me that the girl I had noted before was the one that was to be the sacrifice. I looked at her and saw mortal terror Imprinted on her features. Yet for the life of me, I could not imagine why and put down her fear to imagination.
"By now, the first group of dancers had somewhat recovered, and, suddenly spring up rushed upon the poor girl with unearthly shrieks and yells. They surrounded her, and with shouts and ordered her to climb the tree.
“Terrified, she shrank back, apparently begging for mercy. At that the whole crowd joined in, furiously howling at her to obey. Once more the dancers gave out their orders; then as she still refused and struggled, they armed themselves with spears and stabbing at her forced her to retreat in the direction of the devil-god. At least seeing it was useless to fight further she turned and faced the tree. For a moment she stood still gathering herself up for a supreme effect, then quickly she sprang toward the tree. She scrambled up and reaching the top knelt and drank of the 'holy' liquid.
"Quickly she jumped up again, and I expected to see her jump down, thinking all was over, in that dim light not noticing instantly what caused her so, to shriek with terror. I realized what was happing and I seemed to be paralyzed with horror. The tree; seemingly so dead and motionless a moment before had come to life. The palpi, so frail looking suddenly ceased to quiver themselves about the girl's head and shoulders, holding her so firmly that all her efforts to free herself remained absolutely useless.
The green branches so rigid before began to writhe, and coiled themselves round and round like snakes, arose. Then as that mass struggle there arose a horrible sight I shall never forget- the great leaves began to rise slowly, very slowly. Those evil-looking thorns were now on the inside pointing towards the victim and closing on her with the force of a hydraulic press.
As they came together tightly there trickled down the trunk a pinkish mixture. Then feasting began again amid much rejoicing. Then the devil was appeased - The searchers of the famous Dr. Bose, the Hindu scientist, go far toward confirming Dr. Leche’s story By means of magnification and certain arrangments of intense lights, Dr. Bose was enabled to produce actual pictures of a plant’s growth and life. While the plants seem to have no Fix this text fiber such as we have, there is a tremendous sensitiveness between their cells. The cells are indeed, a granulated nerve.
The comparison might be made that Instead of a wire such as our nerves maybe likened to, the plant nerves are a series of small bodies with power of communicating impressions each to the other.
What and where the directing force Is—in a sentence, what and where is the plant brain ?—is one of the mysteries science still has to reveal. Intense as the interest the story of the Madagascar tree has aroused among botanists, there are few who will dare say it is impossible (writes Dr. B. H. William, in the “Chicago Herald”). It is to be hoped that a scientific expedition will soon go to the place indicated by the German explorer and make a careful study of the extraordinary plant.