Earth Day is here and the symbiotic relationship between animals and plants keeps this circle of life flowing; cue: Lion King. It’s an ashes to ashes and dust to dust world; however, before exploring the real meal and the relationship between blood and plants as a whole, it may be best to remove fiction from the dining table.
The fascination with plants large enough to devour a human goes beyond a singing flytrap from outer space. Perhaps the earliest claims of a man-eating plant came about in the late 1800’s. Reports of a German explorer, Carl Liche, describe the sacrifice performed by the Mkodo tribe of a young woman to a tree. Various sources use the following description:
“The atrocious cannibal tree, that had been so inert and dead, came to sudden savage life. 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.”
Alas, in the mid 1950’s these claims were settled as a hoax and it has been accepted that everything from Carl Liche to the Mkodo tribe were fabrications. Other reports of a similar tree in Africa and Central America known as Ya-Te-Veo (“I see you”) also came about in the late 1800’s. As for Harry Potter fans, yet another plant, known as a Vampire Vine or Devil’s Snare, has been floating around in folklore for quite some time.
Fear not, Earthlings! We have yet to discover a carnivorous plant sizeable enough to digest a person but there is more than meets the eye. These unique botanical beasts don’t necessarily “eat” their prey but rather use the nitrogen to sustain energy within their harsh living environments, whether it be by a living organism or the feces of one. There are over 600 species of carnivorous plants and many of them are critically endangered or threatened by none other than humans. Plant poachers or plant collectors are at fault for the disappearance of a fair amount of these species.
The largest known carnivorous plants are pitcher plants. Named after Sir David Attenborough, the Nepenthes attenboroughii is native to the Philippines and has pitchers about 1.5 to 2 liters in volume. Discovered in 2007, it produces some of the largest pitchers among the genus but most of its prey only consists of large bugs or flying insects, though there are rare exceptions. In 2012, a dead shrew was found whole and decomposed down to skeletal remains, within a two-month period.
Ever hear of a “toilet” plant? Nepenthes lowii, a native species to Borneo, attracts tree shrews with its tasty liquid around the rim. In return, it receives “shrew poo” that provides the plant with 57-100% of the nitrogen it needs.
So where does blood for non-carnivorous plants come into play? Many of the nutrients beneficial for plants are available in blood. You may be surprised but as it turns out, some women have been saving money and producing less waste simply by donating their monthly fluid to fertilize their gardens. As gruesome as it sounds they swear by it.
As we know, when an animal dies its body decomposes and feeds back into the soil but this applies to humans as well, as long as there is a natural burial. There are a lot of toxins in embalming fluid which can cause problems for the environment over time, making green burials more common nowadays. When actor Luke Perry passed in 2019, he was laid to rest in a biodegradable mushroom suit. These suits average $1500, much more affordable than traditional funeral options.
It all makes you wonder about our role in life and our coexistence with plants. We are always told to eat our greens but truth is that it is our vegetables that consume us in the end. Nature always wins.