The idea of man-eating plants has been utilized in plenty of modern media, like the 1986 movie Little Shop of Horrors. It isn’t a completely far-fetched idea — after all, species like the Venus flytrap show that carnivorous plants exist. Taking that idea to the extreme is simply good entertainment.
However, an 1874 New York World article written by a purported German explorer named Karl Leche claimed that man-eating plants were real.
According to Leche — who was actually the author Edmund Spencer writing under a pseudonym — he met a tribe known as the Mkodo when he was exploring Madagascar. While he was with the tribe, Leche claimed to have witnessed a bizarre ritual sacrifice in which the tribe offered up a human to a carnivorous tree. The bloodthirsty plant then devoured the sacrifice.
Leche’s account reads in part:
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.
Former Governor of Michigan Chase Osborn further spread the story in his 1924 book, Madagascar: Land of the Man-Eating Tree, in which he claimed that missionaries in Madagascar had heard of the bloodthirsty tree. However, he also admitted that he did not know if the story was true.
Though the Madagascar tale was eventually confirmed to be a hoax, a different book by author James W. Buel, Sea and Land, had already introduced the public to another story of the man-eating tree in 1889. This one was given the name ya-te-veo, and this legendary plant not only appeared in Africa but also Central and South America.
The ya-te-veo name endured, and terrified those who believed in it, as it supposedly used its long branches to catch unsuspecting prey, including insects, bigger animals like horses, and humans who got too close to it.