Man-Eating Tree of Mindanao

From Kook Science

As depicted in the American Weekly

Man-Eating Tree of Mindanao is a cryptobotanical carnivorous plant that was reported to exist on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, the subject of two similar accounts: the first, a 1925 newspaper story by B. H. William in American Weekly, being the story of W.C. Bryant, a Mississippian planter, and Leon, his Moro guide; and the second, a 1927 newspaper story by Muriel E. Eddy relating perilous encounter of Mrs. Leoda Eddison and Sambino, her Moro guide, with the "death-dealing cannibal tree."

Dramatis Personae

  • W. C. Bryant, a Mississippian planter;
  • Leon, Bryant's Moro guide;
  • Captain Johnston, an official to whom Bryant related his tale;
  • B. H. William, newspaper writer credited with Bryant's story;
  • Mrs. Leoda Eddison, a widowed explorer;
  • Sambino, Eddison's Moro guide;
  • Muriel E. Eddy, writer and memoirist of H. P. Lovecraft, credited with Eddison's story.

The Reports

  • William, B. H. (4 Jan. 1925), "Escaped From the Embrace of the Man-Eating Tree", American Weekly (Hearst) 

    Mountains began to rise, and with them mounted the old guide's warnings about 'diabolos,' 'demonios,' 'kotras,' and other inventions of a superstitious mind lurking just ahead. The following day he began hugging Bryant's knees and weeping on them, and repeated this gesture so often that it impeded progress until King picked up the old fellow like a child and carried him half a mile. Then the meeting came to a head and the white men won because, scared as the natives were to go on where the 'diabolos' were thicker, they were even less willing to go back alone without the protection of the white men and their guns.

    Like men counting themselves already dead, the Moros plodded along into the foot-hills of the mountains. Noon of the next day found the party preparing its meal in the midst of a small plateau covered with tall, wiry grass, high as a man's head.

    While the meal was cooking, Bryant decided to push forward a short distance to a knoll from which he might hope to see what was ahead, for the guide in this strange country was of little use save to cut a path with his naked bolo through the grass and ferns.

    Leon went on with him, his blade rhythmically moving right and left two paces in advance. It was a windless day, without even a break to ripple the surface of the sea of grass in which there was a notable absence of animal tracks. Not even birds were in evidence. The old man paused, listened and cocked a watery eye, full of fear and rebellion at the white man. Bryant listened and realized that he had never been in such complete silence. There was not even a rustle in the grass nor the whir of an insect.

    It was uncomfortable and he motioned for Leon to proceed, but the old man burst into a pitiful plea to go back and fell at Bryant's knees, but the white man gave him a shove and again the swish-swish went on until a lone tree rose in their path.

    The tree was perhaps thirty-five or forty feet high, a compact sort of a tree with heavy dull-green leaves lying close together with a shingly look and concealing the boughs and upper trunk. Approaching near, the American was impressed with several things at once.

    The foliage stopped all around at a beautifully even distance from the ground as if carefully trimmed by human hands, and the thick trunk stood in the center of a perfect circle of barren ground about thirty feet in diameter.

    All about this park-like opening the congonale grass stood like a wall, but in the clearing itself not a wisp of any sort of vegetation was visible, nothing but what appeared to be a sort of volcanic ash. The air was heavy with an odor that struck an unpleasant chord in Bryant's memory, and yet to this day he cannot place it. It was an animal smell, something between that of carrion and the circus, and yet neither.

    At the base of the trunk, shiny with some sort of sticky exudation, was a pile of white bones too dry to taint the atmosphere. Instead of saving himself thirty feet of unnecessary mowing, Leon started to carve himself a path around the edge. Bryant looked upon this as one more example of the stupidity and perversity which all white men have remarked in the negro. Lazy as a dog, nevertheless when the Philippine aborigine does do anything he choses for himself the hardest and most inefficient way.

    The American did not mind. He was glad of the extra time to examine that tree. His guess was that the big black leaves, like a shingle roof, had made the ground barren and dead within the circle. Still some rain should have blown in. Why was the boundary so sharp?

    Among the bones Bryant saw what might be a human skull and started across the open to pick it up. As he moved he noted half-consciously that a breeze must be springing up, for the leaves just above his head were beginning to undulate. A faint hissing made him look again to see if it could be a snake.

    The thought was knocked out of his mind by the sudden impact of the guide's body on his back. The Moro landed with a yell, pinioned both his master's arms and tried to pull him over backward, all the time shrieking like a fiend. Bryant, certain that the man was insane, wondered gratefully why the old fool had not struck with his bolo. The American was helpless until he could free his arms, which should have been easy with this rather frail old man, but was not, because the guide fought with the strength of a maniac.

    Bryant set himself to break that grip and finally loosened it enough to get one hand on his pistol and to look into his assailant's face. Leon's complexion was the dirty grey of utter terror and his bulging eyes were not looking at Bryant at all. Bryant was impelled to twist his head in the direction of that gaze and became paralyzed at what he saw. The tree was reaching for him.

    The whole thing had changed shape and was horribly alive and alert. The dull heavy leaves had sprung from their compact formation and were coming at him from all directions, advancing on the ends of long vine-like stems which stretched down like the necks of innumerable geese and now that the old man had stopped his screaming, the air was full of hissing sounds.

    The leaves did not move straight at their target, but with a graceful side-to-side sway like a cobra about to strike. From the far side the distant leaves were peeping and swaying on their journey around the trunk and even the tree-top was bending down to join in the attack. The bending of the trunk was spasmodic and accompanied by sharp cracks.

    The effect of this advancing and swaying mass of green objects was hypnotic like the charm movements of a snake. He saw the heavy leaf curve like a green-mittened hand as it brushed his eyebrows in passing, his got the smell of it — the same animal smell that hung in the surrounding air. Another instant and the thing would have had his eyes in its sticky, prickly grasp, but either his weakness or the brown man's strength threw them both on their backs.

    The charm was broken. They crawled out of the circle of death and lay panting in the grass while the malignant plant, cracking and hissing, yearned and stretched and thrashed to get at them.

    The paroxysm worked up to a climax and then gradually began to subside, and Bryant, having overcome a faintness and nausea, walked with Leon to the opposite side. Immediately the commotion was set up anew and the huge organism bent its energies in grasping them from the new direction. After a more careful survey, Bryant estimated the leaves at about three inches across, roughly three times that in length and thick like a cactus. Each was in a vine-like tendril the thickness of a man's thumb and appeared to have the property of extension in length as well as uncoiling like a spring.

    The bones on second thought, he considered hardly large enough for a man, perhaps not even for a full-sized ape. There were many feathers and he was not certain that he did not see hair and fur.

    The distant report of King's rifle reminding them of dinner, brought to an end the study of the deadly tree. His last backward look showed it with leaves slightly ruffled like the feathers of an angry parrot.

    Bryant wished to know why the natives, knowing all this, did not make a business of exterminating these murderous growths. The Philippine replied that a naked man with a bolo 'no can do.' This was probably not the truth. A band of Moros could easily destroy any tree if they really tried. They let them live from superstitious fear.

    When Bryant reported this to Captain Johnston, he replied that he had heard of the tree and understood that it stupefied as well as held its victims by force but heretofore had always been inclined to doubt the yarns.

    The author of this tale, having been questioned, replies under date of January 8, 1925, that 'the tree is there and in the main the account is true. The circle at the foot of the tree was about 80 maybe 100 feet in diameter. The tree looked nothing like the drawings [in the paper]. It was round as a smoke stack — the trunk, I mean, and dark gray or ash-color. The whole tree was symmetrical and the tree and ground under it, was very inviting to a storm-beset or sun-depressed traveller. The clucking and hissing was, I judged, from a gluey consistency of, or on, the leaves. My impression was that if it reached me, it would fasten and hold me, thus it had done to apes, birds, and animals.'"