The Lamb-tree

As a change from this awful animal, let us examine the Planta Tartarica

Borometz--which was so graphically delineated by Joannes Zahn in 1696.

Although this is by no means the first picture of it, yet it is the best

of any I have seen.

A most interesting book[37] on the "Vegetable Lamb of Tartary" has been

written by the late Henry Lee, Esq., at one time Naturalist of the

Brighton Aqu
rium, and I am much indebted to it for matter on the

subject, which I could not otherwise have obtained.

The word Borometz is supposed to be derived from a Tartar word

signifying a lamb, and this plant-animal was thoroughly believed in,

many centuries ago--but there seem to have been two distinct varieties

of plant, that on which little lambs were found in pods, and that as

represented by Zahn, with a living lamb attached by its navel to a short

stem. This stalk was flexible, and allowed the lamb to graze, within

its limits; but when it had consumed all the grass within its reach, or

if the stalk was severed, it died. This lamb was said to have the actual

body, blood, and bones of a young sheep, and wolves were very fond of

it--but, luckily for the lamb-tree, these were the only carnivorous

animals that would attack it.

In his "Histoire Admirable des Plantes" (1605) Claude Duret, of Moulins,

treats of the Borometz, and says: "I remember to have read some time

ago, in a very ancient Hebrew book entitled in Latin the Talmud

Ierosolimitanum, and written by a Jewish Rabbi Jochanan, assisted by

others, in the year of Salvation 436, that a certain personage named

Moses Chusensis (he being a native of Ethiopia) affirmed, on the

authority of Rabbi Simeon, that there was a certain country of the earth

which bore a zoophyte, or plant-animal, called in the Hebrew Jeduah.

It was in form like a lamb, and from its navel, grew a stem or root by

which this Zoophyte, or plant-animal, was fixed attached, like a gourd,

to the soil below the surface of the ground, and, according to the

length of its stem or root, it devoured all the herbage which it was

able to reach within the circle of its tether. The hunters who went in

search of this creature were unable to capture, or remove it, until they

had succeeded in cutting the stem by well-aimed arrows, or darts, when

the animal immediately fell prostrate to the earth, and died. Its bones

being placed with certain ceremonies and incantations in the mouth of

one desiring to foretell the future, he was instantly seized with a

spirit of divination, and endowed with the gift of prophecy."

Mr. Lee then says: "As I was unable to find in the Latin translation of

the Talmud of Jerusalem, the passage mentioned by Claude Duret, and was

anxious to ascertain whether any reference to this curious legend

existed in the Talmudical books, I sought the assistance of learned

members of the Jewish community, and, amongst them, of the Rev. Dr.

Hermann Adler, Chief Rabbi Delegate of the United Congregations of the

British Empire. He most kindly interested himself in the matter, and

wrote to me as follows: 'It affords me much gratification to give you

the information you desire on the Borametz. In the Mishna Kilaim,

chap. viii. Sec. 5 (a portion of the Talmud), the passage occurs:

"Creatures called Adne Hasadeh (literally 'lords of the field') are

regarded as beasts." There is a variant reading, Abne Hasadeh (stones

of the field). A commentator, Rabbi Simeon, of Sens (died about 1235),

writes as follows, on this passage: 'It is stated in the Jerusalem

Talmud that this is a human being of the mountains: it lives by means of

its navel: if its navel be cut, it cannot live. I have heard in the name

of Rabbi Meir, the son of Kallonymos of Speyer, that this is the animal

called Jeduah. This is the Jedoui mentioned in Scripture (lit.

wizard, Lev. xix. 31); with its bones witchcraft is practised. A kind

of large stem issues from a root in the earth on which this animal,

called Jadua, grows, just as gourds and melons. Only the Jadua has,

in all respects, a human shape, in face, body, hands, and feet. By its

navel it is joined to the stem that issues from the root. No creature

can approach within the tether of the stem, for it seizes and kills

them. Within the tether of the stem it devours the herbage all around.

When they want to capture it, no man dares approach it, but they tear at

the stem until it is ruptured, whereupon the animal dies.' Another

commentator, Rabbi Obadja, of Berbinoro, gives the same explanation,

only substituting 'They aim arrows at the stem until it is ruptured,'


"The author of an ancient Hebrew work, Maase Tobia (Venice, 1705),

gives an interesting description of this animal. In Part IV. c. 10, page

786, he mentions the Borametz found in Great Tartary. He repeats the

description of Rabbi Simeon, and adds, that he has found, in 'A New Work

on Geography,' namely, that 'the Africans (sic) in Great Tartary, in

the province of Sambulala, are enriched by means of seeds, like the

seeds of gourds, only shorter in size, which grow and blossom like a

stem to the navel of an animal which is called Borametz in their

language, i.e. lamb, on account of its resembling a lamb in all its

limbs, from head to foot; its hoofs are cloven, its skin is soft, its

wool is adapted for clothing, but it has no horns, only the hairs of its

head, which grow, and are intertwined like horns. Its height is half a

cubit and more. According to those who speak of this wondrous thing, its

taste is like the flesh of fish, its blood as sweet as honey, and it

lives as long as there is herbage within reach of the stem, from which

it derives its life. If the herbage is destroyed or perishes, the animal

also dies away. It has rest from all beasts and birds of prey, except

the wolf, which seeks to destroy it.' The author concludes by expressing

his belief that this account of the animal having the shape of a lamb is

more likely to be true than it is of human form."

As I have said, there are several delineations of this Borametz or

Borometz, but there is one, a frontispiece to the 1656 edition of the

Paridisi in Sole--Paradisus Terrestris, of John Parkinson, Apothecary

of London, in which, together with Adam and Eve, the lamb-tree is

shown as flourishing in the Garden of Eden; and Du Bartas, in "His

divine WEEKES And WORKES" in his poem of Eden, (the first day of the

second week), makes Adam to take a tour of Eden, and describes his

wonder at what he sees, especially at the "lamb-plant."

"Musing, anon through crooked Walks he wanders,

Round-winding rings, and intricate Meanders,

Fals-guiding paths, doubtfull beguiling strays,

And right-wrong errors of an end-less Maze:

Not simply hedged with a single border

Of Rosemary, cut-out with curious order,

In Satyrs, Centaurs, Whales, and half-men-Horses,

And thousand other counterfaited corses;

But with true Beasts, fast in the ground still sticking,

Feeding on grass, and th' airy moisture licking:

Such as those Bonarets, in Scythia bred

Of slender seeds, and with green fodder fed;

Although their bodies, noses, mouthes and eys,

Of new-yean'd Lambs have full the form and guise;

And should be very Lambs, save that (for foot)

Within the ground they fix a living root,

Which at their navell growes, and dies that day

That they have brouz'd the neighbour grass away.

O wondrous vertue of God onely good!

The Beast hath root, the Plant hath flesh and blood

The nimble Plant can turn it to and fro;

The nummed Beast can neither stir nor go:

The Plant is leaf-less, branch-less, void of fruit;

The Beast is lust-less, sex-less, fire-less, mute;

The Plant with Plants his hungry panch doth feed;

Th' admired Beast is sowen a slender seed."

Of the other kind of "lamb-tree," that which bears lambs in pods, we

have an account, in Sir John Maundeville's Travels. "Whoso goeth from

Cathay to Inde, the high and the low, he shal go through a Kingdom that

men call Cadissen, and it is a great lande, there groweth a manner of

fruite as it were gourdes, and when it is ripe men cut it a sonder, and

men fynde therein a beast as it were of fleshe and bone and bloud, as

it were a lyttle lambe without wolle, and men eate the beaste and fruite

also, and sure it seemeth very strange."

And in the "Journall of Frier Odoricus," which I have incorporated in my

edition of "The Voiage and Travayle of Syr John Maundeville, Knight," he

says: "I was informed also by certaine credible persons of another

miraculous thing, namely, that in a certaine Kingdome of the sayd Can,

wherein stand the mountains called Kapsei (the Kingdomes name is Kalor)

there groweth great Gourds or Pompions, (pumpkins) which being ripe,

doe open at the tops, and within them is found a little beast like unto

a yong lambe."