The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary
April 8, 2016 10:10 PM   Subscribe

The mysterious and useful Vegetable Lamb of Tartary: a plant whose ripe seed-pods yield tiny live lambs. Or was it a plant growing in the shape of a full-size lamb, but with an umbilical tether to the ground? (Oh, and do you know about the barnacle goose?) A tale from the medieval science grapevine.

There seem to be a few different strands of explanation - one is Henry Lee's view that this myth was an explanation of cotton for people who had only known wool. (His 1887 book in several formats)

A second set of explanations has the vegetable lamb (a.k.a. the barometz) being a misunderstanding of oddly-shaped fern rhizomes from Asia. Some of these came back to Europe in the form of physical specimens. Rebecca Reynolds in Poor Yorick's Journal writes about her visit to see one of the only extant specimens.
posted by LobsterMitten (7 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
There's also the Persian waq-waq tree (picture, explanation) and further East, the jinmenju. Both are trees that grow human heads for fruit.
posted by sukeban at 11:36 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Any time i send off for these outen the back of Spider-Man i only ever get brine shrimp.
posted by mwhybark at 11:43 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

If you like this, take a look at the book Parallel Botany by Leo Lionni which somebody gave me when I was a science-curious child, and which confused me immensely! Right near the start (scroll down a little) we find "Fig. I. A vegetable-lamb or Barometz, from a sixteenth-century woodcut"
posted by crazy_yeti at 5:19 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

As a friend of mine said when I sent him the link, "Legendary, feh! I've had it several times at little Tatar places in Flushing."
posted by languagehat at 6:52 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

FYI, if you want confused ass medieval interpretations of thing from afar, read Baudolino by Umberto Eco. That sort of thing is about half the plot
posted by Ferreous at 12:29 PM on April 9, 2016

Sounds like a clever ruse to get around Catholic prohibitions against eating meat on Fridays. Kind of like declaring fish to be not-an-animal.
posted by eviemath at 5:34 PM on April 9, 2016

*jaw completely drops to the floor re: the cover of Parallel Botany*

That's not a Leo Lionni book. Leo Lionni used torn paper collage. THAT is a book by Jim Woodring!

posted by gusandrews at 6:38 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

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