Saturday, May 22, 2004

Vegetable Lamb of Tartary

When I first read about the vegetable lamb of Tartary last year, my main sensation was amazement that I hadn't ever heard of it before. It's exactly the kind of thing I'm obsessed with. For more details, see the picture of a specimen of the Lamb at Vegetable Lamb of Tartary: Darwin Centre Phase 2:

"It is very likely that Sir Hans Sloane (founder of the Natural History Museumcollections) acquired the 'Vegetable Lamb of Tartary' through his connections with the Royal Society, of which he was the Secretary from 1693 to 1712. This is actually a rhizome of the fern Cibotium barometz, an arborescent fern that was eventually introduced into Britain in 1824 from China. This example was not entirely naturally formed, but was aided by careful removal of excess parts of the rhizome. It would originally have been white, so the confusion with wool would have been more apparent. It was variously called 'The Borometz' (this being the Tartar word for lamb), 'The Scythian Lamb', and the 'Vegetable Lamb of Tartary'.

"These so-called 'lambs' were considered from the fourteenth century to be a zoomorphic plant (one having the attributes of an animal). It was supposed to grow from a seed, and to be attached to the ground by a stalk. This allowed it to graze only on the grass in the near vicinity, at which point the 'lamb' then broke away from the stalk, leaving it to die. The myth also states that an arrow could be fired at the stalk to free the lamb."

Here's a seventeenth-century picture--look closely to see a cute little Vegetable Lamb, swaying on his stalk: Parkinson's Paradisi


  1. hi Jenny

    I came across your vegetable lamb of tartary entry browsing the web exactly on this exciting subject. it is nice to know that you are also "obsessed with that kind of thing"
    Actually I am a journalist from Moscow and I am writing my first novel which has much to do with botany (fed up with journalism and glossy journalism in particular a bit and still have illusions about becoming a REAL writer). So the lamb was part of my research. I saw one in London, but not at the Natural History Museum (there are two lambs to see in London).
    Anyway, this is to say hi from far away (it snows non-stop for two days by now) and wish you my bests

  2. They have one at the museum of garden history in London. It is a fuzzy kind of fern and very lamb-like indeed.