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Carnivorous Cryptobotany And Other Legendary Man-eaters

"Ya-te-veo" Art by Tatsuro Kiuchi

There exists in Latin American "cuentos" , or folktales, a sinister tree that makes a hissing sound that resembles the Spanish phrase "ya te veo," which means "now I see you." El Ya-te-veo is said to use its thorns to trap and consume its prey…including humans.

In 1887 , author JW Buel , in his "scientific" book “Sea and Land:

Detail of a version of Ya-te-veo/Image: public domain on Wikimedia Commons

An illustrated history of the wonderful and curious things of nature existing before and since the deluge” shocked the public with an account of the Ya-te-veo, a mythical tree that was whispered about in Central and South America. According to Buel, the tree had a mass of mobile branches that looked like "enormous snakes in a furious discussion that from time to time are thrown from one side to the other as if hitting an imaginary enemy", which would then squeeze their prey and devour them.

Cryptobotany is the study of various exotic plants which are not believed to exist by the scientific community, but which exist in myth, literature or unsubstantiated reports. Latin America is home to a wealth of crypto botanical folklore and mythology, and some of the most fascinating stories involve man-eating plants and trees. These come hombres ( maneaters) are said to lurk in the rainforests and swamps of Uruguay and Brasil to name a few, waiting to snatch up unsuspecting travelers.

Leyendas about man-eating plants go back as early as the 2nd century AD due to Lucian of Samósata, a well known Greek/Syrian philosopher who claimed an amazing story of some plant women who seduced sailors in order to devour them.

It was confirmed in the publication, Review of Reviews, a noted British journal of current events, for example, that in the Mexican Sierra Madre: a tree whose roots had trapped the dog of a naturalist, a man named Dunstan, who had a hard time freeing his pet and when he did so he discovered that the plant had drained a most of the animal's blood.

It’s true, there are carnivorous plants in Nature, even some with similar characteristics. There are about six hundred and thirty species of them plus another three hundred considered protocarnivores. For the most part they are satisfied with catching and swallowing insects or arthropods. They use a variety of traps such as sticky stems or irresistible scents combined with powerful traps. None are large enough to make a human their meal, although some have been known to capture a small rodent or frog.

It’s no wonder there’s no shortage of literature and films featuring botanical villains. From the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more recent carnivorous cryptids in some of my personal favorites, The Ruins, set in a forbidden archeological dig in the Yucatan and the weirdly fantastic Little Otik where a childless couple carves a backyard root into a baby with an appetite.

Fictional botanical horror aside, there are tales of many cryptid man-eating trees in Latino America. One of the most note-worthy is the Matapalo, or "tree killer." Like many common creepers, this tree is said to have a parasitic vine that grows around other trees and eventually kills them. Legend has it, the Matapalo is able to sense the presence of humans and will attack them with its vines.

Art by Rob Tilley at

Another carnivorous plant that is said to inhabit South America is the Madeira-de-inferno, or "Hellwood." The madeira-de-inferno is a mythical tree that grows in swamps and marshes. It’s said to have poisonous thorns that can kill anyone who comes into contact with them. The Hellwood tree attracts its prey with a seductively foul odor.

There is also the fabled Kulamtu. This terrifying tree is alleged to grow in the Venezuelan Amazon rainforest and to have poisonous spines that can pierce through flesh and bone. By some accounts, a certain Amazonian tribe used the Kulamtu as a particularly cruel form of human execution.

Photo by Deyan Kossev

And finally, there is the Socratea exorrhiza, also known as the "walking tree." This tree is rumored to be able to move around on its roots, and it is said to have been known to attack humans who trespassed.

Of course, there is no scientific evidence to support the existence of these creatures. But that doesn't stop people from believing in them. Perhaps, like many cuentos from our story-telling cultures, they exist only to frighten children who misbehave. The Ya-te-veo, Kulamtu, and Socratea exorrhiza are all part of Latin American folklore, and they continue to be a source of fear and fascination for many people.

So, what do you think? Are these cryptid man-eating plants and trees real? Or are they just figments of our imagination?

Photo by Ketzally Alcala / Las Fotos Project

The Maneater Folklorico (at left) or “Ye-Te-Veo” is a carnivorous specimen of cryptobotany. This mock neck pullover tells the story of the carnivorous predator and their travels through the forests and jungles amidst traditional Aztec motifs knitted throughout.

The Maneater ( at right) is a carnivorous specimen of cryptobotany. Inspired by the legend including that of the "Ya-Te-Veo", a tree spoken of in Central and South American folklore with undulating snake-like branches that attacked passers-by. This shadowy pullover illustrates the Maneater at work potted in a traditional “jarrito de barro” and features our signature striped trims.

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